ON THE COUCH WITH ... Nam LE
NAM LE was born in Rach Gia, Vietnam, in 1979, and raised in Melbourne, Australia. He worked as a lawyer before winning the Truman Capote Fellowship to Iowa Writers’ Workshop where he wrote The Boat (Alfred A. Knopf, May 13, 2008), his first collection of seven stories written over the last four years. This collection was recently longlisted for the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Michiko Kakutani, in The New York Times, wrote, “Mr. Le not only writes with an authority and poise rare even among veteran authors, but he also demonstrates an intuitive, gut-level ability to convey the psychological conflicts people experience when they find their own hopes and ambitions slamming up against familial expectations or the brute facts of history.” Le, who used to be a corporate lawyer in Melbourne, is the fiction editor of Harvard Review.
The début author recently spoke to Eric Forbes and Tan May Lee in an e-mail interview from his home in Exeter, New Hampshire.
How did you find out about the longlist?
A friend of mine had come across it in a blog, and forwarded it to me.
What was the first thing you did when you found out you were longlisted?
My lawyerly instincts kicked in and I instantly looked for corroboration.
What do you think of the other titles on the longlist? Are you familiar with any of them?
I’m not as familiar with many of them as I’d like. I’ve read some, and heard of others, and frankly it seems a pretty intimidating list.
How familiar are you with the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award?
Not terribly familiar, although the inaugural winner, Yiyun Li, is a friend of mine. (She was racking up prizes at a good clip back then, which is why we fans didn’t have time to dwell on any one!)
What is the difference between writing short stories and full-length novels?
I feel underqualified to answer that question—I’ve only written one novel and all that taught me was how not to write novels. I guess the sensible answer is apparent: a full-length novel is longer, takes longer to write, and carries with it all the potentialities and pitfalls of the longform.
What is your favourite short story or short-story collection?
Contemporary (with all the usual caveats): Charles D’Ambrosio, Tim Winton, Deborah Eisenberg, Lorrie Moore, Thomas McGuane, Edward P. Jones, Denis Johnson, Andre Dubus, and many others.