The Challenges of Being a Bright Young Thing
Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran in 1978 and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area (South Pasadena, to be exact). Her first language was Farsi, her second (and luckily mostly forgotten) tongue, Valley Girl. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and The Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MA program. She has been awarded fellowships from Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Yaddo.
She began writing as an arts and entertainment journalist—her subjects have spanned from clubs (Paul Oakenfold!) to couture (Paul Poiret!); Maggie Gyllenhaal (Maggie’s first big feature!) to Fabio (Porochista’s first feature at 16!); New York City’s finest drinking establishments (Paper magazine bar columnist, 2000-2001, as well as New York magazine online bar critic) to rural Illinois’s most dangerous skydiving compound (2004 staff writer stint at The Chicago Reader). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Village Voice, The Chicago Reader, Paper, Flaunt, Nylon, Bidoun, Alef, Canteen, nerve.com and FiveChapters.com, among others.
She currently spends a third of her time in New York City and two thirds three hours away in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where she teaches Fiction at Bucknell University.
Question: What is it like being a young female writer?
Khakpour: Well on the one hand being a young female writer, you know, there is the sort of obvious disadvantage that you’re not being taken as seriously – that it still, you know . . . You’re dealing with a world that largely takes middle aged White men seriously. And so, you know, you sometimes get the feeling that people are saying, “Wow,” you know. “This young girl can write!” You know, “Look at that!” And that’s somewhat hideous and embarrassing. But there are definitely advantages. There’s another level of press worthiness I suppose that comes from it, again, from that bad impulse of like, “Oh look! A young woman can write!” It’s a strange feeling because I never thought of myself as that young. There’s several . . . There’s been many great novelists in the last decade that have had works out that have been much younger than me. I just turned 30 yesterday, so I was excited to have the novel come out while I was still in my 20s – the last few months of it. But you know it was sort of a strange feeling to have some of the press focus on that, you know, yeah you’re more likely to have your photo run with you . . . with your (01:03:10) book review, say, in the New York Times or something like that. And I just hope that people weren’t snickering at that, and that wasn’t off putting. But I also feel like sometimes people immediately assume that young women will be writing some form of chick lit, and that was frustrating. I immediately got raised eyebrows when they realized that this novel had a lot to do with fathers and sons, and that it wasn’t gonna be a sort of, you know . . . that Iranian women’s novel or memoir that they seemed to all really want. So the curve ball, I guess, has offered an interesting story.
Question: Does a bright young thing age well?
Khakpour: I think luckily in the field of literature there’s not that sort of anxiety. You get the feeling that, you know, the best writers always hit their strides later. And for the most part you’re not gonna have all the glamorous photo shoots, right? And you’re not gonna have that much attention put on what you look like. And you know maybe Zadie Smith has paparazzi moments, but most of us won’t. So luckily I don’t think so. I think, you know, that might be reserved for the world of models and ballet dancers. And that’s exciting because I like that I . . . I probably will never experience retirement as many do. So no, I have no anxieties about that. I’m excited. I’m excited about getting older because it seems to be less distracting. Youth can be very distracting I think. And even getting some of that press is quite distracting. You know much of the last four months of my life, you know, have the sort of atmosphere about constant anxiety about, “Oh did I say that right” in some interview? Or, “What did I look like in that interview?” Or like, you know, “Do I . . . Should I go to this event, or should I . . .” You know so much of stuff that has nothing to do with the book, and nothing to do with me being a writer. And it was very distracting. So I think writers value quiet and introspection more than anything. And so a future of more of that seems not so bad as long as it can still somehow go hand-in-hand with a living. But I’m also a teacher, so I hope to always be in the academy somehow, and hopefully depend on them for my earning a living more so than the world of publishing.
"Wow! This girl can write!," can cut both ways, Khakpour says.
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