Episode 172: A Life in Novels — Interview with Kathleen Hill

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Podcast

Hey there word nerds!

Today I have the pleasure of hosting author Kathleen Hill on the show!

Kathleen teaches in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College, and has also taught and lived in the country of Niger which is also where her debut novel Still Waters in Niger is set.

Her debut received many accolades including being named a notable book by the New York and Los Angeles Times. Kathleen is also the author of the novel Who Occupies This House, and now of the memoir She Read to us in the Late Afternoons: A Life in Novels.

Listen in as we discuss Kathleen’s latest book and how to make the shift from fiction to memoir.

In this episode Kathleen and I discuss:

  • Writing literal truth versus emotional truth and when to use both.
  • How to work around constraints of reality in fiction vs. memoir.
  • Ways to tackle “blind spots” of your characters when using an “I” narrator.
  • How to use certain language to make your memoir feel like a novel.
  • Tips on finding your memoir’s hook, and weaving a narrative through your life.

Plus, Kathleen’s #1 tip for writers.

About Kathleen Hill

Kathleen Hill is an author and teaches in the M.F.A. program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her first novel, Still Waters in Niger was named a notable book by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune and was nominated for the Dublin IMPAC Award. Her second novel Who Occupies This House was selected as Editors’ Choice by the New York Times.

Her latest work, She Read to Us in The Late Afternoons: A Life in Novels, a memoir that Kathleen says “is built around stories of how novels have infused my life, of the difference they have made” is available now.

To connect with Kathleen check out her website at www.kathleenhillwriter.com.

You can also see Kathleen’s interview on The Millions via this link.


She Read to Us in The Late Afternoons: A Life in Novels

Beginning with a Best American award-winning narrative, Kathleen Hill’s memoir explores defining moments of a life illuminated by novels, read in Nigeria,France, and at home in New York.

As a child in a music class where a remarkable teacher watches over a classmate marked for tragedy, the author by chance reads Willa Cather’s novel Lucy Gayheart and is prepared against her will for death by drowning. And prepared for the teacher’s confessions to the class of a frustrated ambition to become a pianist, her regret for a life that will never be.

Later, recently married and living in a newly independent Nigeria, a teacher now herself, the author gives Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to her students and is instructed by them in the violent legacy of colonialism. And loses her American innocence when she visits a nearby abandoned slave port and connects its rusting shackles with the students sitting before her. Reading A Portrait of a Lady, also in Nigeria, she ponders her own new marriage through the lens of Isabel Archer’s cautionary fate, remembers her own adolescent fear that reading might be a way of avoiding experience.

A few years later, this time in a town in northern France, haunted by Madame Bovary, by Emma’s solitude and boredom, she puts aside Flaubert’s novel and discovers in Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest the poverty and suffering she had failed to see all around her. The memoir closes with a tender account of the author’s friendship with the writer, Diana Trilling, whose failing sight inspires a plan to read aloud Proust’s masterwork (In Search of Lost Time), an undertaking that takes six years to complete. Faced with Diana’s approaching death and the mysteries of her own life, the author wonders whether reading after all may not be experience at its most ardent, its most transforming.


If you decide to check out the book, we hope you’ll do so via this Amazon affiliate link, where if you choose to purchase DIY MFA makes a small commission at no cost to you. As always, thank you for supporting DIY MFA!

Link to Episode 172

(Right-click to download.)

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