Interview with Library volunteer coordinator Danielle Typinski
27 March 2019
Partnership with Météore Films for Frederick Wiseman’s “Monrovia, Indiana”
9 April 2019

Interview with 2018 Fall Visiting Fellow Hala Alyan

We recently interviewed the Library’s fall 2018 Visiting Fellow, Hala Alyan, on her time at the Library. Hala had an evening event on 10 October 2018 to discuss her book-in-progress, The Arsonists’ City, as well as conducted a writing workshop about trauma on 13 October 2018. She is also the author of the novel Salt Houses, and most recently of a collection of poetry, The Twenty-Ninth Year.

How did the visiting fellowship at the Library help in the progress of your new book?

Libraries are sacred spaces, and this one is no exception — there is a wealth of resources, books, and articles available to the fellows, but more than that there are the incredible people that work at the library. Everyone I met was passionate about knowledge and reading and connection. In many ways the conversations I had with various library staff—and people I met through the workshop I led—were easily more elucidating and nurturing than all the books I read during my time there. In terms of space, I was given my own office and the opportunity to be as social (or not) as I wanted, which helped me find that sweet spot of connection and solitude that I needed to get a tremendous amount of writing done.

What was the best part of your fellowship?

Without a doubt, the people and the time. I’ve had the privilege of having uninterrupted time before, but it often came with a certain amount of isolation. While that can be lovely in its own right, but I think makes this fellowship different is that you can tailor it to your own needs. There were days I didn’t speak with anyone, and there were days I had these rich, enlightening encounters with people at the library. Everyone’s always happy to help and connect, and I genuinely left Paris with new, cherished relationships. Of course, the location only enhances the experience: Paris in October is a downright dream, the streets, the river, the changing seasons, all lent the experience a magical, almost surreal quality.

How does your triple work as a poet, writer, and clinical psychologist inform your perspective when you engage in any one of these occupations?

I believe all three facets of my work are interrelated—poetry teaches me to pay attention to details, which helps me become a more descriptive fiction writer. My training as a therapist has primed me to think about a person’s motivations and desires, which helps with the character development part of fiction. All three require a certain curiosity and engagement with the world around you, and ask for a degree of meditativeness and capacity to be still and reflect.

How is your new book coming along?

I am thrilled to report that I sent the completed first draft to my editor last month. I definitely attribute a lot of that work to my time in Paris, where I had abundant time to write and daydream.

What book(s) are you enjoying right now?

I just read The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner and loved it. I’ve also recently enjoyed Invasive Species by Marwa Helal and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.


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