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Rebecca Makkai: Researching into the Void | Craft Talk

December 1, 2018 at 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM

Unless every character you write is exactly like you, fiction involves writing across difference. Those differences might be ones of identity and demographics, or they might be ones of knowledge, experience, setting, and historical era. With so much valid concern and debate around the touchy issue of appropriation, writers can find themselves crippled by fears: Do I have permission to write this? What if I get it horribly wrong? Even if I do it well, will people be upset that I wrote outside my own life?

Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers is a novel that took the author far outside her own lived experience and her own identity, and in this talk she will share not only the essential questions she asked herself as she wrote, but the strategies—of research, of craft, and of publishing—she arrived at by the end. We’ll discuss techniques for researching lives unlike our own, for approaching filter readers, and for making sure we’ve approached our characters with the respect they deserve.

[Photo by Phillipe Matsas, at Opale]


Rebecca Makkai is the Chicago-based author of the novels The Great Believers, The Borrower, and The Hundred-Year House, and the collection Music for Wartime — four stories from which appeared in The Best American Short Stories. The recipient of a 2014 NEA Fellowship, Rebecca has taught at the Tin House Writers’ Conference and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is currently on the faculty of the MFA programs at Sierra Nevada College and Northwestern University. She is the artistic director of StoryStudio Chicago. rebeccamakkai.com


Praise for The Great Believers

“A magnificent novel — well imagined, intricately plotted, and deeply felt, both humane and human… You keep thinking it can’t get any more perfect, and it does.” – Rabih Alameddine, author of The Angel of History

“Makkai has created a moving story about Chicago and Paris, the past and present, the young men lost to AIDS and the ones who survived. And just as her novel evokes art’s power to commemorate the departed, The Great Believers is itself a poignant work of memoir.” — Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Sympathizer

“This expansive, huge-hearted novel conveys the scale of the trauma that was the early AIDS crisis, and conveys, too, the scale of the anger and love that rose up to meet it. Rebecca Makkai shows us characters who are devastated but not defeated, who remain devoted, in the face of death, to friendship and desire and joyful, irrepressible life. I loved this book.” — Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You