Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Interview with Naja Marie Aidt

Here is my third and final interview of Danish authors leading up to The Writer's Center's September 23rd reading "Out of Denmark." This remarkable, free event begins at 7:00. It is part of Fall for the Book, and it is sponsored by Fall for the Book, The Danish Arts Council, The Writer's Center, and the Embassy of Denmark. Click here to register for this event.

Naja Maria Aidt won the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2008 for her short story collection Bavian (Baboon). The collection also earned the 2006 Danish Kritikerprisen (Critics’ Prize). In addition to her fiction, she has published eight collections of poetry, beginning with Sålænge jeg er ung (As Long as I’m Young) in 1991; several plays and children’s books; and the screenplay for the 2005 movie Strings. Her story “Bulbjerg” was included in the anthology Best European Fiction 2010. Visit her Web site.

You're a poet and a fiction writer. How do the two forms inform each other for you?

I really love both forms. In some ways I use the process of creating poetry when I write prose. I really rely on the language; language is everything to me, and it always comes first. Also, I think working in different forms - I also write plays - keeps me on my toes. I like the way the dialogue from a play suddenly turns up in a poem. The forms mix and give something to each other.

You now live in Brooklyn, NY. Why did you move to the United States?

I'd lived in Copenhagen since I was eight and really wanted to see the world. New York is the world - so many people and cultures living in the same city, it's really a melting pot. So I figured that would be the place to live, and I really enjoy being here. I think it is good for my writing, too. I now read more American and international literature and less Nordic, and I get a completely different inspiration from that.

How has the move affected your writing? Has it been difficult to continue writing in Danish?

Well, English words are really starting to pop up when I write in Danish. But I go to Denmark very frequently to prevent myself from losing the feeling of the Danish language, and I need to keep doing that. When I lived in Denmark, I was never aware of how quickly the language changes, but now I realize that in only 6 months people will stop saying this and that, and different words will slip into the language. I still read a lot in Danish and will continue to do so. And we do speak Danish at home, so I should be safe! But sometimes I wonder if I will start writing in English at some point if I stay here. I think I would at least try.

Your collection Bavian won the Nordic Prize. When can English-reading audiences expect to see it—or your other books—in English?

I wish I knew. I don't have an American publisher yet, but I do have marvelous translators. So hopefully soon.

What is it that most drives you as a writer?
That is a difficult question. But I think the major drive is the need to express myself. And writing is the way I can best do it. When I was young, I used to play music and paint and draw, and I remember knowing that I had to choose. It wasn't hard to choose. And I gave up everything else - music, art - when I made up my mind to write.

You were born in Greenland. Can you talk a little about growing up there and how it influenced your writing?

My latest collection of poetry, “Everything Shimmers,” does include Greenland, which used to be a Danish colony. Greenland is a very beautiful and very weird place. On this enormous island of ice only 50.000 people live. I grew up in a small town, and I think the intimacy and the beauty of the huge, untouched landscape influenced me a lot. I do have a need for space and I easily get restless and claustrophobic. I am sure it has to do with the feeling of growing up in such an open landscape. During the winter the town had no visitors. The ships couldn't sail because the ocean was frozen and the helicopters couldn't get in the air because of the snowstorms. We were very isolated, and we had to stick together. Sometimes we couldn't get out of the house for days. So I grew up between the freedom of the nature and the intimacy among the people. There was a lot of storytelling. People had to lift their spirits during those long, dark winter months.

What is Danish literature to you?

Danish literature is sharp, precise, and often sarcastic or hilarious. Mostly, it's not pompous. And, mostly, it's beautifully written. There is a tradition in Scandinavia of writing very precisely and exquisitely, very artfully. Even bestselling fiction is mostly characterized by its elegant and smooth language and great courage when it comes to what to write about and how to do it. Americans might know of the Norwegian writer Per Petterson. He is a good example of this. Norwegian literature and Danish literature are in many ways pretty similar.

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