Okechukwu Nzelu discusses ‘fantastic novels’ written by C Pam Zhang and Bryan Washington

  • Talk about novel that deconstructs the typical Wild West and another which explores modern relationships and sexuaility 

The author of a novel which challenges perceptions of America’a wild west was invited to speak at a Manchester Literature festival event.

C Pam Zhang and Bryan Washington were in conversation Okechukwu Nzelu about their “fantastic novels”.

The writers jonied the evewnt remotely, Zhang was from Lyon in France and Washington from Houston in the US.

C Pam Zhang’s novel, How Much of These Hills is Gold, was chosen by Barack Obama as one of his books of 2020 and is currently being adapted for television by the London and Los Angeles-based independent studio, The Ink Factory.

The novel is told through the eyes of the character Lucy, who alongside her brother who has recently been orphaned and who are on the run travelling with their dead father’s body to bury him.

Speaking about the difficulties of writing the book, Zhang said: “It is really that childhood sense of both desire and injustice that I want to render. I think that the power and in this case of writing this novel is the difficulty of writing from a child’s perspective is that everything is raw.

“I think that often as adults we learn to put this sort of filter over our feelings so that when something bad comes our way we get a couple of layers of thick skin first before dealing with it.”

How Much of These Hills is Gold is a reimagined mythology of the American west which combats the traditional image of the white Clint Eastwood and white America.

Zhang explained: “I wanted to write something that put people like myself and my family at the centre of the story.”

The novel deconstructs the usual perception of the West, providing a refreshing experience for the reader.

The literature destival digital events started  on 1 November and while live events which were running last month have ended people can find recordings of these events online.

Speaking about Memorial, Washington remarked: “I wanted to write the sort of book that, you know, my friends would enjoy.”

He said that crafting the voice was a lot like putting sticky notes on the wall. To have like a list of threads that are running through each particular voice, where they coalesced over the course of the story.

“It’s wonderful to have these characters and these situations that are so real and vibrant and alive that they continue to play around in people’s heads after they left the page and left the world.”

The main characters are Benson and Mike who, says the author, are “two queer men living in Houston who are trying to figure out what it means to be okay with themselves and also as a person living among other people.”

He added: “I think for me one of the sort of inciting points for the novel was the question of the many different forms that a relationship can take over the course of a relationship.

“It was important for me to from the outset to write a love story in which the love that each partner or each party within the relationship had wasn’t the question.”

The novel evokes questions of belonging, miscommunications in relationships, family and identity.

Washington’s Lot a collection of short stories was published in 2019 which set in Houston, Texas and explores subjects such as border issues and the interiority of the characters.

He admits to being inspired by writers such as Helena Oyeyemi, Jaqueline Woodson, Alexander Chee and Ocean Vuong.

There are plans for Memorial to be shown on TV as a limited series. Washington is currently writing the script for it.

Zhang is also currently working on a new project, an untitled book which she will only say is “the complete opposite” of her last novel.

And has also had a short story published in Jesmyn Ward’s Best American Short Stories 2021 curation.

Numerous short stories published on online sites, and non-fiction work.

 Appearing on The Cut, McSweeney’s Quarterly, The New Yorker, and The New York Times.

There are also a number of free MLF events that can be accessed here.

This event was in partnership with Durham Book festival and Ikley Literature festival