Hi! I’m Maura, the other half of STET. I am so excited to share this site with you guys. Jinnie and I have a lot of good things cooking. In the meantime, I’ll answer our “One Question.” It was a tough one, but here we go:
What one book or piece of writing has changed the way you think about your own work?
Freshman year of college I took a Latin American literature class, and between the pages of Borges and Cortázar slipped a short novella by the beloved Brazilian author Clarice Lispector. As a child my family had lived briefly in South America, and I couldn’t help but fall for the imagination and mysticism of those writers’ voices. The Hour of the Star (or one of its many other suggested titles listed in the book’s interior) was Lispector’s last book before succumbing to ovarian cancer in her 50s, and through its odd, impoverished protagonist Macabéa and concerned narrator Rodrigo S.M. it confronts death, the creative process of writing, and the social hierarchy of Lispector’s native country, all with dark glimmers of wisdom and humor.
Despite Macabéa’s pathetic state (“No one paid attention to her on the street, for she was as appetizing as cold coffee.”), Rodrigo (and over the course of reading, myself included) falls for Macabéa’s ignorant happiness. She takes pleasure in the simplicities of her life—her typing job, a cold Coca-Cola—and eventually leaves this world as quietly as she entered it. When I first read the book, the plot and even Macabéa mattered less to me than the intimate experience of reading Lispector’s final message to her readers. It felt like a private note, like reading a diary. I wrote all over my personal copy, underlining passages and transcribing them into my journal to revisit later.
The book caused me to seek lessons of wisdom in every novel I’ve read since, and to view novels as a personal conversation between myself and the writer in which the writer reveals to me secrets about life (and death) I’ve yet to discover and, alternatively, offers camaraderie for those I have. There’s nothing better than reading an author’s funny or sad observation and feeling the comfort of completely understanding where he or she is coming from.
Lispector’s book, with its unadorned language and casual asides feels like it was written quickly. She reminds us in beginning, however, that with writing, that’s never the case. “Let no one be mistaken,” she says. “I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort.”Photo credit: Matt Solomon