Writing a Mural | Rebecca Makkai | A Word on Words | NPT


(typing) (bell ringing) (soothing music) – Hi I’m Rebecca Makkai, and
this is The Great Believers. I thought that initially
I was gonna just do a lot of checking books out from the library, assuming that there would
be multiple non-fiction accounts of the AIDS epidemic in America’s third largest city, and
there was not a single one. – That is wild. – Yeah. So I instantly was thrust into primary source research, and interviews. The two doctors who
started the major AIDS unit in Chicago that I write about in the book, nurses, activists, lawyers, journalists, historians, survivors; I had just hours and hours
of interviews with them. And it was a blessing
in disguise for my book. Those interviews, I was getting,
it was emotional research, it was psychological research. I learned a lot about life
from talking to those people that had nothing to do with my book, but I think it just enriched my book. (upbeat blues music) – (Mary) You’re from Chicago. How is it different for
you to write a story set in Chicago, versus writing
a story set somewhere else? – I did this thing that
a lot of writers do, where in my early 20s I
really thought that I was supposed to set everything in New York, and I’m not alone in that. – The great American story in New York – Right, right, which
I’d been to like twice. Which was ridiculous;
and then kind of embraced the fact that I could write about Chicago. But this was the first time I really wrote about it and I loved it. I loved partly that my
research into the history of the AIDS epidemic in Chicago, really transformed the city for me. – (Mary) Yeah. – (Rebecca) As I walk around,
I see things differently knowing what happened in certain places. – (Mary) Oh wow. – That was lovely. It was lovely to be able to walk through my book, in many ways, and walk down these streets and think about it. (blues music) – (Mary) I had professor once who swore that writing short stories was infinitely more difficult than writing a novel because of the constraints
of the shorter form. You are a master of both. Was he right? – Writing a novel is
like painting a mural, like a really huge intricate mural. But you’re trapped so close to it that you can never get across the room to see the whole thing. People will see it from a
distance, but I never will. And that’s got… – that’s a good analogy – …some challenges. But a short story is like painting a picture on the head of a pin. Where like you can see it
all, but damn, it’s tiny. It’s really hard, yeah. – That makes sense. Thank you for being here Rebecca. – Thank you. – And thank you for joining
us for A Word on Words. I’m Mary Laura Philpott. Keep reading. – (Rebecca) I had one
character I needed to kill. I had writers block, like
for a couple of days, and I was like “Why? I’m so stuck. And my back hurts, I need exercise.” I finally realized I was just- I didn’t want to kill her and I just had to do it.

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