Authors from literary families tell the stories behind their stories


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I have always been intrigued by literary families with more than one author published. What must it be like to be able to pick up the phone and discuss the writing process, the plot, and the character? Share mutual understanding and speak a common language? Would it be stifling or reassuring? Competitive or inspiring? I imagine that’s probably all of the above.

Earlier this year, I attended a virtual reading and conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro, who was promoting his latest novel, Klara and the Sun. It was during this event that I learned that his daughter, Naomi, is also an author. A few months earlier, I had stumbled across papers from a creative writing class in college and noticed my teacher’s name: Paula Saunders. I had loved her class and never forgot the proven principles I had learned from her. Curious as to what she did, I Googled her and found out that she is now a successful novelist whose husband is none other than George Saunders.

All this led me to wonder about literary families with multiple publications in their name. How many are there? What do they say about each other? What should their creative life look like? So I dug a bit and found that there were many more literary families – whose authors are related both by blood and by marriage – than I thought. Some of them have offered, in various interviews and articles, a glimpse of their life together. So for all the nerds in the book who are as curious as I am, I’ve compiled some of what I learned about the real-life scenes behind the scenes.

Kazuo Ishiguro and Naomi Ishiguro

Their perspective on literary families

On the childhood of Naomi Ishiguro

  • Kazuo Ishiguro once said The Guardian that he read Enid Blyton’s books to his daughter when she was younger.
  • At the virtual event I attended, he told the audience that he also regaled her with stories from his imagination – told from the most unexpected angles. Indeed, in an interview with Standard Evening, Naomi Ishiguro revealed Klara and the sun was based on one of those stories. The tale became known as “Merm and the Sun”. Merm, short for Mermaid, was Naomi’s nickname
  • In his own interview with The Guardian, Naomi Ishiguro remembers how her father taught her to play the guitar when she was 5 years old. Then when my dad tried to teach me I was like, ‘Noooo! I will not do that!'”

On their work

  • Naomi Ishiguro said The Guardian that having a writer parent makes a career in writing “seems possible; it doesn’t seem completely mystical. You think, ‘I can do it if I want to, it’s just that I have to work hard.’ “
  • In that same interview, she revealed that when she was younger, when she shared her writings with her parents, they were brutally honest. While her mother was blunt in her reviews, her father was “a lot more Guildford about it and going around the houses!”
  • From his interview with Standard Evening, when her father shares his first drafts with Naomi and her mother, they don’t hold back their criticism either.
  • When she learned that her father had won the Nobel Prize, Naomi Ishiguro described her reaction to Standard Evening: “I screamed and my roommate came running in because he thought we were being robbed.”

On other stuff

  • Earlier this year, in a New York Times on Kazuo Ishiguro, his daughter summed up his style like this: “He hates shopping, but he wants to look cool, so at one point he just bought a thousand black t-shirts.

Paula Saunders and George Saunders

How they are related

Paula Saunders’ debut novel, The Distance Home, was shortlisted for the 2018 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and was included in Real Simple’s The Best Books of 2018.

Her husband, George Saunders, is an author and short story writer. Her novel Lincoln in the Bardo won the Man Booker Prize 2017. Her short story collection, Tenth of December, won the Folio Prize. His other works include CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia, among others.

Their point of view on literary families

About their relationship

  • In a new YorkIn his essay on the chronology of his writing training, George Saunders describes his life in September and October 1986 as follows: “I am starting to date a beautiful fellow writer named Paula Redick, who is in the year to come. . Things move fast. We’ll get engaged in three weeks, a Syracuse Creative Writing Program record which I believe still stands.
  • Paula Saunders said The Guardian she was one of her husband’s first fans – “before he published more than a story or two in small magazines”. She added that she was proud to have her book next to hers on the shelf.
  • In a conversation with Jonathan Rabb at the Savannah Book Festival 2019, the couple agreed that since the beginning of their relationship, they’ve always bonded with the idea that fiction is a way “to get to the heart of things.”

On their work

  • In an interview with LitHub, George and Paula Saunders revealed that when they talk about each other’s work, rather than discussing characters and other literary elements, they mostly talk about sentences. “That’s all we’re talking about,” said George Saunders.
  • At the Savannah Book Festival, they told the audience they were working separately, but getting together to share their progress. George Saunders waits until it feels like a play is almost done before sharing, while Paula Saunders tends to share earlier in the process. The two agreed that they were relying on each other’s honest reviews.
  • In fact, in that same discussion, George Saunders explained that he learned to feel his wife’s reactions, both negative and positive. When he left her a partial manuscript of Lincoln in the Bardo for the first time he was extremely nervous about what she would think, but then she left him a post-it with “the nicest thing anyone ever said about my handwriting – so nice that I keep it a secret “. This note, he said, gave him the confidence to move forward.

Zadie Smith and Nick Laird

How they are related

Zadie Smith is an author, essayist and short story writer. She has won several literary awards, including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Guardian First Book Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction. His works include White Teeth, On Beauty, Swing Time, and Changing My Mind, among others.

Smith is married to Nick Laird, a poet and novelist whose works include Utterly Monkey, Glover’s Mistake, Feel Free, and Go Giants, among others. His literary prizes include the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize, the Ireland Chair for Poetry Prize, the Betty Trask Prize and the Somerset Maugham Prize, among others.

The couple co-wrote a children’s book, Weirdo, which launched earlier this year.

Their point of view on literary families

About their relationship

  • The couple’s first meeting happened when Smith submitted a story to May’s Anthologies, of which Laird was the editor. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh that’s head and shoulders above everything I’ve seen,'” said Laird. Belfast Telegraph.
  • In “Joy”, an essay she wrote for The New York Review, Smith described being delighted to see Laird at the end of the workday – they both worked in the library, but on different floors – so they could relate to each other everything they saw and heard from. ‘interesting during the day.
  • In an interview with Writer’s collection, Smith broke down their differences by watching TV shows: “I’m the person who watches a TV show and has no idea who the murderer is.” up to the last 10 minutes of the last episode. Nick is the one who knows a few minutes after the end of the opening credits.
  • Talk with Belfast Telegraph, Laird has revealed that he is often “cut off at an elbow as people cry out to join his wife” at literary events. “I kind of agreed to be Mr. Smith,” he says.

On their work

  • Laird and Smith still share their work with each other. In the Writer’s collection interview, each confirmed that the other is always the first to see their work. While Smith will also be sharing his plays with friends and other writers, Laird’s editors are the only other people who see his writing.
  • Much like the Saunders duo, Laird and Smith work separately before sharing with each other. In a Penguin podcast, Smith explains how, when they criticize, they play on their respective strengths: “Nick is really good at your story, I’m better at talking with people. “
  • Laird claims, in Belfast Telegraph, that his novel Modern Gods would have been “twice as long and half as good if [Smith] I hadn’t gone through it with a pen.
  • In that same interview, Laird wondered about writing couples who don’t read each other’s work. “It just seems weird to me. The couples I know who don’t are now divorced, and those who read are still together. The couple who read together reproduce. “


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