Which authors influenced you?
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: Which writers influenced you most?
Khakpour: I would say that other than the . . . Great 19th century novelists – you know the Europeans definitely. The same books everyone has read. And you know I could go on about Tolstoy, ___________, you know the Brontes, Dickens, all those guys. But I would say the writers that have probably influenced me the most – maybe not in terms of my actual writing style, but in terms of me being excited about writing and wanting to be a part of that world – would be the American writers of . . . the American experimentalists actually. And that . . . By that I mean great writers like Thomas Pynchon, and Don _________, and David Foster Wallace – writers who have earned that slightly unfortunate tag “Meta Fiction” you know? And the absurdists, the hysterical realists, those guys. It’s sort of strangely a boys club. But the . . . They’re . . . You know when I . . . When I started reading David Foster Wallace, I felt so excited. I might have been in college, and I just felt like, you know, here’s a big nerd who thinks the way I think and wants to have fun at the same time as being smart. The play in those books is just endlessly, endlessly interesting to me. You know I find it very oppressive when people say, you know, “So and so is a great story teller.” I cringe a little bit at the idea of storytelling and just saying, you know, “Well this novel, it’s just an amazing story.” I don’t think story is enough. I think we forget that sometimes. Craft is not just . . . I think of myself as a language writer, and the style of the prose was . . . I’ll say thinking about the style of the prose in my novel was . . . took just as much energy if not more than the actual story. The story is fairly classical than the story that’s been told before, but the prose I think isn’t. So I had to create a style of prose in the same way that I felt David Foster Wallace did, or Thomas Pynchon, or those writers. I’m really interested in the art of fiction. I don’t just believe in character, plot, theme.
Khakpour loves the 19th-century novel and the absurdist 20th-century novel equally.
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