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‘Pointing out flaws in the central narrative can be very dangerous’

  • Published at 03:02 pm November 9th, 2018
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Photo: Mahmud Hossain Opu

Adam Johnson talks about human nature, narratives and writing at DLF

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Adam Johnson said that narratives are used against people everywhere in the current world. He was speaking at a session at the Dhaka Lit Fest. 

Interviewed by renowned editor and the founder of the Asia Literary Agency in Hong Kong, Kelley Falconer, the session was held at a fully packed Abul Karim Shahittya Bisharad Auditorium in the Bangla Academy premise, where the high-profile literary fest is taking place. The session entailed an hour-long interview with the award winning author about his work and subjects related to writing. 

Johnson said that different kinds of narratives raised people’s defense against narratives, making the writer’s job more difficult. “Commercials use narrative to get our money. Politicians and corporations have their own narratives,” he said. 

Johnson says people should strive to tell their narratives. “In North Korea there is just one main character, and then there are 23 million secondary characters,” said Adam Johnson, who wrote a short story that centres around North Korean characters that defect and go into exile. The writer visited North Korea and drew from his experience there to write the story. 

“Because there is one character only, there is just one central narrative. Pointing out flaws in the central narrative is very dangerous,” he said. 

Noted for his ability to make unlikeable characters sympathetic, as Kelley Falconer mentions during the session, Johnson says that the reluctance to explore the humanities of certain type of people perturbs him. The novelist and short story writer said society deems that, some people surrender their membership to humanity when they commit particular types of crime, but he is interested to look into their redeeming qualities. 

“I really like every human I meet,” Johnson said. “And that is a humanity I can do without,” he added humorously. 

A professor of English at Stanford University in the United States, Adam Johnson has numerous prestigious awards for his fiction works, including a Whiting Award and Fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Academy in Berlin. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for his novel The Orphan Master's Son and National Book Award in 2015 for Fortune Smiles. 

His fiction has appeared in Esquire, GQ, Playboy, Harper's Magazine, Granta, Tin House and The Best American Short Stories. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages.

Adam Johnson is visiting Bangladesh to attend the Dhaka Lit Fest and scheduled to appear in multiple sessions throughout the rest of the three-day festival that is set to end on Saturday.