By Blythe Nguyen
Bryan Washington is a sophomore at the University of Houston, a student in the Creative Writing Program, and, in his spare time, a baker. He has been writing since elementary school, a time in which he remembers writing stories about going to the moon. Today, Washington enjoys reading Junot Díaz, Grace Paley, and J.D. Salinger, whose book The Last War with the Eskimos was an early influence on him. He admires these writers, he says, for their abilities to go from a formal to an informal voice, something he aims to do in his own work. Besides fiction, he writes his own Opinion column for The Daily Cougar.
In his work, Washington gravitates toward chronological plots, sometimes writing in a reflective tone. For example, in “Sandra,” published in the Fall 2012 chapbook of The Aletheia, the dots are connected by the title character’s son, the narrator. With revealing imagery and diction, Washington captures the son’s complex feelings toward his mother, as well as his anxieties. In the short interview that follows, we discuss his work and his approach to fiction.
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I think writing such as yours can resolve issues and as well as raise complex questions. Do you agree?
I’d meet you halfway on that. It’s fun to toss accusations, but I’m more interested in the ambiguity of our own individual situations–the sort of ambiguity that’s proffered by asking questions. One after another. If I end up making any verdicts, they’d ideally serve more as a foreground for illuminating the questions I’ve asked, the questions I’m asking, the questions that can’t be answered. When I’m lucky, the conclusion depends on the reader. And by merit of writing, you’re offering your own individual truth. That’s all I think a library really is: a mausoleum of what was. It doesn’t make them definite–there are as many of those as there are people–but that’s what makes reading so much fun. Very much like fixing a thousand-piece puzzle. Some fragments may fit yours. Others won’t. They’ll make a picture either way.
I’d like to quote some passages from “Sandra” and hear your thoughts on them. (To read “Sandra” in its entirety, visit our Chapbook Archive above.) The first one is, “If I told her what I really thought, that civilization had actually gotten one over on us, she’d start crying.”
Perspective is so reliant upon your vantage point that it’s practically impossible to dictate someone else’s situation. Or you could try, but I won’t. To be honest, I didn’t consciously outline which of Gene’s qualities reverberates the most throughout the piece. With the exception of the ones I state point-blank, there’s a lot of wiggle room. He’s twelve, but I don’t mention his ethnicity. He’s short, but neither fat nor thin. All of those are variables dependent upon the observer; one thing that’s not as dependent is his empathy. Establishing that this was a kid who may not have empathized-or even agreed- with someone else’s world view, but could acknowledge that it was precious for being someone else’s, was a goal of mine. Maybe you’re noticing means I checked the box.
Here’s another one: “What kind of voice would you use to address your neighbor’s manic depressive pit-bull with, and with that voice, what do you tell it?”
The kind that won’t get you bitten. And good news, if you’re smart.
This last quote doesn’t have to be explained much; I just wanted to put it in front of you again. It’s one of my favorites in the story: “She started whispering in my ears, facts I’d picked up a long time ago, like candy on the sidewalk. I kept chewing until I was full.” Is there a way to picture what kind of candy Gene is picking up?
I had a specific something in mind, but I won’t tell you. A few weeks ago, I got to hear Jonathan Safran Foer give a reading downtown, and he spoke a bit about the satisfaction [that] a lack of satisfaction provides. A writer could dress his characters garment by garment, and their bedrooms foot by foot, but how could that possibly be better than allowing the reader to do it on their own? With as many visitors to as many rooms as they can imagine? I’ve probably stolen this from someone, but I think literature is communication. A roomful of strangers with a common motif. And a conversation’s no fun if one person’s doing all the talking, dictating the output, directing the circulation of the hors d’oeuvres . Micromanagement’s nice, but it’s not for me. I’m happy just providing the couch, a bucket of ice, and letting everyone know they can stay as long as they’d like. ♦