Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Listen As Sarah Shun-lien Bynum Discusses Ms. Hempel Chronicles

Author Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, appeared on KRCW radio on Jan. 15 to talk about her brilliant collection of connected stories, Ms. Hempel Chronicles (A 2008 Story Prize Notable Book) with Bookworm host Michael Silverblatt, who obviously gave the book a close reading (not all interviewers do). It's probably best to listen to this if you've read the collection, because while not presenting any real spoilers, the discussion points out some subtleties that would be more satisfying to discover on your own.

During the course of the interview, Bynum talks about her use of the "free indirect style," which James Wood advocates in How Fiction Works. Wood (a judge for The Story Prize in 2005) didn't invent this concept, and Bynum doesn't mention Wood, but I get the sense she's read his book and adopted the term to explain her technique. Of course, I could be wrong about this, but if not, it's interesting to see the influence of criticism on a writer's discourse.

Even more interesting, from the perspective of The Story Prize, is that in one of the stories in the collection, "Accomplice," the title character, a middle school teacher, has her class read finalist Tobias Wolff's memoir This Boy's Life, a subject that comes up in the KCRW interview. If we'd ended up choosing Ms. Hempel Chronicles as a finalist, it would have been really interesting to touch on this with Bynum and Wolff.