INTERVIEWS & SPOTLIGHTS: ELISA ALBERT
Elisa Albert is the author of the novels Human Blues (forthcoming in 2022), After Birth, The Book of Dahlia, and the short story collection How This Night is Different. Her fiction and essays have been published in Tin House, Bennington Review, The New York Times, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Literary Review, Philip Roth Studies, Paris Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Longreads, The Cut, Time Magazine, Post Road, Gulf Coast, Commentary, Salon, Tablet, Washington Square, The Rumpus, The Believer and in many anthologies. She has taught creative writing at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, The College of Saint Rose, Bennington College, Texas State University, and University of Maine. A Pushcart Prize nominee, finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize and Paterson Fiction Prize, winner of the Moment Magazine debut fiction prize, and Literary Death Match champion, Albert has served as Writer-in-Residence at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in Holland and at the Hanse-Wissenschaftkolleg in Germany.
Read an interview with Elisa below, and register now for the 24PearlStreet course The Un/Likeable Narrator, November 15 – 19, 2021.
How does a character’s likeability or un-likeability change in regards to different settings, structures, content, etc. of a story?
The whole point of narrative is subjective, and there’s so much beauty, humor, pathos, and fascination in subjectivity. One person’s trash is another’s treasure. Notions of “likeability” (or lack thereof) are actually kind of a joke, because what we’re asking of readers when we’re ruthlessly honest in our perspectives (real and/or imagined!) is that they set themselves aside for a few minutes, take a break from judging. Not all readers are willing/able to do that, but as writers our job is not to pander, and the more we practice deep reading/listening, the less we’re satisfied with superficial stuff.
Is there a danger of readers not connecting to a character or story when crafting “unlikeable” characters?
Sure! But writers have to be brave. Not everyone wants to “go there”, and that’s okay! The world is big and chaotic and messy and lots needs doing. Storytelling is just one kind of work.
What, in your mind, do the “ethical duties” of storytelling consist of? How do they relate to a character’s likeability?
Being brave enough to risk “unlikeability” is a requirement of good storytelling. We all have shit on us, as they say. Pretense, condescension, ego-protection, pandering, personal agendas: these things do not make for great literature. As storytellers, we have inordinate power to decide which rocks we lift, and how we relay what we see scurrying underneath said rocks! We might not love what we find, but we are duty-bound to be honest, especially in the context of fiction.
How will you know you’ve accomplished with your students what you’ve set out to with this course?
I hope students feel energized, capable, and inspired during and after our workshop. I hope the processes of reading, writing, and revising become utterly demystified, so that we can take real joy and satisfaction in these processes, and stress less about the false idol of literary “product”.
Register now for the 24PearlStreet course The Un/Likeable Narrator, November 15 – 19, 2021.
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