Sunlit Nights with Rebecca Dinerstein | PART II


If you haven't seen, we have another part to this interview with Rebecca about her life and adventures in Norway. The link to PART I is here.


WRITTEN CITIZEN: Why do you believe that creativity is important — especially for young people? Perhaps in education?

REBECCA DINERSTEIN: I think creativity is the way we come to understand the world as our version of [the world], as our vision of the world. Yeah, I think it's our way of coming closer to the world, and without it, we're kind of at arm's length, because there's always another system separating us from our surroundings. If we're not creating, we're receiving, but creating allows us to come closer to what's around us.

WC: At school, were you an all-rounder? Did you try hard equally in all subjects, as opposed to focusing on writing and poetry?

RD: I really worked hard in all of my classes, which obviously gave me the ability to go to Yale, which then gave me the opportunity to go to Norway. For one thing, it's not enough to focus on the subjects you like — that doesn't prepare you in a more total way for the whole world. Even if you don't like math, it's important to knuckle down and do your best because doing your best early allows you to really do your best later in life.

WC: Who were some of your favourite poets?

RD: My professor at Yale was Louise Glück, who was really important to me, and also the poet Mark Strand, and then some of the older classic poets like Wallace Stevens and Frank O'Hara. Even the British Romantics, like Coleridge and William Keats, [who] are important to me.

WC: What was the first book you really fell in love with and why?

RD: Anne of Green Gables, because it is full of wonder. It really finds such joy in the world; so much beauty in the every day, and I really value that. I think Anne lives her life in a state of wonder, and I really admire that.

WC: Did you read more classics as you were growing up to sort of tailor the kind of writing style in which you write now?

RD: I think I did read classics because the nice thing about reading classics early on is, first of all, you're generally reading great stuff because if you're reading classics, there's a reason they're classics. Also, it's a kind of foundation in what's come before you, and I think it is important to have a sense of how literature has evolved through the centuries. Then, you can play around with contemporary literature, and it's really exciting to find voices among your peers, whom you admire and enjoy, but I think you need to know where you're coming from and where the language is coming from. I recently read 'Jane Eyre' for the first time and am obsessed with it. It's incredible how powerful these older worlds are today.

WC: Painting and art play significant roles in the novel. Are they important to you?

RD: Yes, in a word. I come from a very artistic family and grew up in Manhattan going to museums and galleries every weekend — that was my childhood. It took me a very long time to appreciate that. 
I think when I was little, I felt like a drag, and then it was actually not until Norway and Scandinavia that I had my first private experiences of the fine arts. I think because I always associated museums with these big group outings, I'd never had the opportunity to explore those paintings on my own, and when I was in Copenhagen, I visited some of their collections and was absolutely stunned by the peace, the beauty, and serenity and light in the paintings, and suddenly, I felt that paintings — European paintings of a certain era, in particular — are an incredible source of serenity.

WC: Can you name some of your favourites?

RD: Turner has been very important to me just in his use of light and colour, and there's a Danish painter named Krøyer who had an incredible sense of sky and landscape and light. Oh my gosh, there are so many! 
   I love Degas. I mean, the classics are worth being classics. Walking through the Met in New York is one of my favourite things.

WC: Who were some of your favourite authors and why?

RD: When I was up in Norway, I was reading a lot of Knut Hamsun, who is the Norwegian novelist who won the Nobel Prize. He's not widely read out of Norway, but he's really amazing, and he wrote about a couple of novels. I wound up reading about ten novels when I was up there. 
   I loved the Icelandic novelist Halldór Laxness and his novel, 'Independent People'; it's where I got the title of my novel 'The Sunlit Night'. I also love Virginia Woolf, J.D. Salinger, Jeanette Winterson, James Joyce, and all of the strong, British ladies, like Charlotte Brönte.

WC: I predominantly read YA fiction, probably due to my age, yet I found the novel profound in its poetical prose. Have you thought that the novel would appeal to teenagers similar to my age?

RD: Yeah! I hoped that it would appeal to everyone. There are a lot of really young characters in this story, such as Yasha, who is seventeen. It has something to say to a really wide range of people, and I'm hoping that something about the setting and the basic emotions of the book are so essential and will appeal. Honestly, there's nothing obvious about the Norwegian arctic, but there's something so simple about what these characters want or need, and about home and journey, to which I'm hoping everybody can find something to connect.

WC: From looking at the landscapes in the North, how does just a simple image from your sight become words, phrases, and metaphors?

RD: I don't know that I know. Something that is striking and vivid to me registers in my mind, and the only way we can say things in a way is to think about them, and something that is particularly vivid registers in your mind in terms of some kind of words. Even if you don't realise it, your mind is telling you the story of what you're seeing, so its important just to listen to that immediate impulse [and] to try and get an impression of that setting.

WC: The description of the 'yellow room' painted a strong visual. Why did you choose the colour yellow in particular?

RD: Somebody asked me that yesterday, and it was the first time I've ever been asked that. It wasn't even a choice — from the get-go, it was a yellow barn. It was just immediately how it had occurred to me. In my own experience, there has been no yellow barn — it's a complete fiction. From the moment I imagined Frances working on something, I imagined this yellow barn, and that was just how it started. I think something about how the way it resembles the sun helped connect the project to the season in which I was setting it.

WC: When you went to Oslo, did you try to sort of learn the language beforehand, or did you throw yourself in at the deep end with a phrase book?

RD: I didn't even have a phrase book! I didn't know any Norwegian whatsoever, because people in Scandinavia speak amazing English so learning Norwegian wasn't really on my radar. Until I got up to the Arctic, I fell in love with the sound of it and became really interested in it. I took it upon myself, kind of as a hobby, to learn it, and over time, as I developed more friendships and spent more time there, I spent more time speaking the language, and the poems came out and I had a relationship in Norwegian. The business with the publisher of the poems was in Norwegian, and more and more of my life became Norwegian.

WC: I think I've seen two covers of the novel so far — the US and UK versions. Are there any more? What are your thoughts on them?

RD: So this beautiful cover (the UK one), and the other beautiful cover, the US cover, is a little edgier. It's kind of like a light aqua and it has really edgy writing, and the sun and the star. I love the UK cover and the US cover; they say a lot about their respective book markets. I think the UK made a really beautiful cover, whilst the US made a really strong cover, and it's cool — I like them both a lot. The book will also be coming out in Norway and China, and those countries will make their own covers, but I haven't seen them yet.

WC: Thank you so much for talking to us! We wish you all the best with the release of 'The Sunlit Night'.

Rebecca's novel 'The Sunlit Night' came out yesterday (June 2), so for our UK-based Citizens, we'd highly recommend heading over to your local Waterstones to grab yourself a copy. Alternatively, the Amazon link is here. The link to her poetry book, named 'Lofoten' is here.  

Image by Nina Subin 

Follow Rebecca on her TwitterInstagram and check out her website.

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