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Kazuo Ishiguro accepts his first American literary award in Tulsa

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It is hard to believe that famous author and winner of Britain’s prestigious Man Booker Award, Kazuo Ishiguro, cut his eye teeth on American cowboy t.v. shows, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes. Ishiguro (or “Ish,” as his friends call him) flew to Tulsa to accept his first American literary honor, the 2013 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. Jeff Martin of Booksmart Tulsa had the honor of interviewing him for the Saturday morning audience at Conner’s Cove in Hardesty Regional Library.

Ishiguro, who traveled with his wife, stated he was pleased to receive his first American literary award “in the heartland of the United States. New York and LA are nice, but not necessarily true America.”

The author is best known for his books The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, which were both made into movies. Ishiguro received the Man Booker Award for The Remains of the Day. After Ishiguro lived his first five years in Japan, Ishiguro’s father moved the family to England.

In addition to revealing his experiences as a hippy who hitchhiked around the Pacific Northwest of the United States at one point in the 1970’s, Ishiguro revealed his early penchant for Bob Dylan and songwriting.
“Songwriitng,” he said, was his first attempt to study “how to get meaning into things. It was a very good apprenticeship for being a fiction writer.” He said that in some ways his voice hasn’t changed that much from the way he wrote his songs then. “I had a confessional autobiographical novel in my songs, the purple prose. I used first person. I began studying the narrator’s voice and asked myself ‘Is it a straightforward confession. Are they trying to hide something? Are they reliable?’” He began writing short stories at the age of 23 or 24 when he came across his limitations as a songwriter.

Until the time he began writing short stories, Ishiguro hadn’t been particularly interested in his Japanese heritage. He was comfortable in his life in England. “When I was around 22, 23 something happened to me. I suddenly realized that my memories of Japan were fading and that I was in danger of losing a very precious place I had kept in my head called Japan which might or might not have corresponded to the real place. Japan, to me, represented childhood, a different way of living, my grandparents, toys I had left behind. This Japan I knew was fading fast and unless I did something to preserve that Japan, I would lose it. That’s what motivated me to write fiction. It’s a way of creating a world, your own world. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a reflection of the real one you’re in.”

When Ishiguro began his writing life, he decided to apply to the creative writing program that is now the most prestigious in Britain. He wanted to get a post-graduate degree, but didn’t want to work too hard to get it. He discovered he could get a master’s degree just for writing 30 pages of fiction. He said he thought, “This isn’t bad after doing social work. I was shocked to be accepted (to the program).”

He decided to write a short story about a woman living in Nagasaki – which is where his mother is from – right around the time that the bomb dropped. He thought, “I’ll just give it a go. It was a big leap. Something seemed to open up. My writing seemed to come from somewhere else altogether. It’s easier for me to write fiction from the viewpoint of someone not at all like me who is a different age, living in a different period, often a different sex. I’ve always been more comfortable by going through someone very different than me. It liberated me.”

During Ishiguro's master’s degree in Creative Writing, a distinguished man from Faber and Faber Publishing came and discovered him. He told Ishiguro when he finished the book he was working on, the company would publish it. All his other writing successes flowed from that opportunity.

“I’m a very annoying person to talk to about writing and how you get published,” Ishiguro said. “I had the flukiest, luckiest break. I’ve never had a rejection letter in my life. Everyone (in the program) was saying how tough it was going to be. I discovered writing and writing discovered me.”

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