Stolen Words: An Exclusive Q&A With Téa Obreht, Eduardo C. Corral, and Quenton Baker

Posted Tue, 10/04/2016 - 8:00am by  |  Category:

On Friday, Oct. 14, catch Quenton Baker, Eduardo C. Corral, and Téa Obreht redhanded as they explore the first Literary Series theme of the season: theft. What do they plan to steal? Baker, a 2015—16 Made at Hugo House fellow, is considering cinematic-worthy hijinks; Yale Younger Poets Prize winner Corral has art on the mind; and Obreht, author of The Tiger’s Wife, seeks a little comfort — both philosophically and practically. Read on for more.

Find out more about the upcoming Literary Series and buy tickets.


Quenton Baker

Quenton Baker

Q: What can you tell us about your Literary Series piece?

A: My whole life is consumed by the book I’m writing now, so the Literary Series piece will be an extension of that. On the one hand, it’s always exciting when the theme of a commissioned piece can fit in perfectly with a larger work, but it also multiplies the terror of reading it to an audience for the first time; I can’t hide in the piece as a one-off or limit my investment in any way.

Ultimately, it will be a short series of poems that treat theft as an entryway into lineage. As a child of the hip-hop era, I grew up on samples in instrumentals and borrowed lines in verses, and I saw those techniques as a way to both exert artistic control over tone and atmosphere and to pay homage to others whose work you owed a great debt. I’m aiming to do a similar thing with these poems.

Q: What’s one piece of creative advice you always try to instill in your students?

A: I tell them: Don’t listen to anyone but also listen to everybody. It’s stupid but it’s the truth. As a developing writer, you need to learn as much as you can from people who have done the thing you want to do. However, they’re entirely different writers, coming from an impossibly foreign set of circumstances. What is going to work for you is something that you can only discover by trying on a million different styles/processes/methods and taking a lot from some, a little from few, and nothing at all from the vast majority. If it were possible for someone to tell you how to be the writer you’re capable of becoming, you wouldn’t be needed. They could just do it themselves.

Q: Since the theme of your Lit Series is “theft” — if you could steal one thing without being caught what would it be?

A: Just large sums of money — from, like, Roger Ailes’ bank account. Preferably done via floppy disk like in Office Space.


Eduardo_CorralEduardo C. Corral

Q: What can you tell us about your Literary Series piece?

A: I’m a slow writer so I’m going to be reading poems that aren’t “finished.” Most of the poems lift language from another writer; a bit of language that has lodged itself inside my soul.

Q: What’s one piece of creative advice you always try to instill in your students?

A: Writers are readers. Period. Read. Read. Read.

Q: Because the theme of your Lit Series is “theft,” if you could steal one thing without being caught what would it be?

A: I would steal a famous painting: Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp.


Obreht_-Tea_940_529_72-ppiTéa Obreht

Q: What can you tell us about your Literary Series piece?

A: It concerns theft in more than one way.

Q: What’s one thing no one ever asks you but you wish they would?

A: Well, perhaps because I only got around to watching The Sopranos last year, I find that no one’s interested in talking about what happened at the end any more.

On a more writerly note: I’ve always been interested in how language builds authority, authenticity, and community. Coming to any second language, regardless of your age, invariably seems to leave you at somewhat of a remove, and, in my case, a little obsessed with idioms and etymologies — as if cracking them open could somehow serve as gateway to whatever part of the culture seems only accessible to native speakers.

I’ve been working on a novel set in the American West for a few years now, and my research has led me to several contemporaneous dictionaries, which have revealed the origins of a whole host of modern expressions. Finding them hasn’t really alleviated my problem, but it’s been a fascinating journey.

Q: Because the theme of your Lit Series is “theft,” if you could steal one thing without being caught what would it be?

A: Either Carl Sagan’s faith in humanity, or David Attenborough’s airline miles.