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Five Questions for Novelist Idra Novey


Idra Novey
Idra Novey (credit: Donata Zanotti)

Idra Novey's debut novel, Ways To Disappear, appeared in 2016 and earned positive accolades, such as "a seductive mystery," "bewitching" and "exhilarating." She is also the author of Exit, Civilian, which was selected for the 2011 National Poetry Series, and her poetry and fiction have been translated into seven languages. Her writing has been featured on NPR's All Things Considered and in Slate, StoryQuarterly, The Paris Review and Guernica. In addition to her own original work, Novey has translated several books from Portuguese and Spanish, including Clarice Lispector's novel, The Passion According to G.H. When she is not writing, she teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University.

Born in Pennsylvania, Novey has lived in Chile and Brazil and currently resides in Brooklyn where Stay Thirsty Magazine visited with her for these five questions.


STAY THIRSTY: Your debut novel, Ways To Disappear, has been called a "well-plotted literary thriller," "a madcap page-turner," a "mysterious romp" and "funny, poignant, and profound." How do you feel about those comments? Are they on point?

IDRA NOVEY: I'm glad it's a book that resists easy categorization, as the novel is about resisting neat, tidy definitions of oneself and also of others. It's been fascinating to read the wide range of words used to describe the novel and see how what the reviewer focuses on—the suspense, the kidnapping, the lyrical language, the evocation of Brazil—is as much a reflection of the reviewer's interests as it is a reflection of the book itself.


STAY THIRSTY: Your prior works include two books of poetry and four translations. How difficult was it for you to switch gears and write a novel? Did you have to change your way of thinking in order to tell a longer story of your own creation?

IDRA NOVEY: Well, my last book of poems, Exit, Civilian, was almost all prose poetry. In tone and in its use of surrealism and humor, it's quite similar to Ways to Disappear. What was new for me, and exciting, was playing with the elaborate plotting of a novel. The more I upped the suspense, the more engrossed I became in what I was writing and driven to keep going.  


STAY THIRSTY: Before the story begins, you dedicate Ways To Disappear to Leo and there is an epigraph that quotes the Egyptian-born, French poet Edmond Jabès who was know for his references to Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah in his poetry. What is the backstory regarding these choices?

IDRA NOVEY: Leo is my husband and his native country, Chile, has an incredibly long, majestic coastline, which we've traveled together many times. We've also traveled along the coast of Brazil and many other countries and I wanted to reflect all that coastal travel and its importance to the world of the novel in my dedication to him.

As for the Jabes quote, I admire his writing immensely but chose that line more for its reference to two people becoming the same word, how beautiful but fleeting that kind of verbal symmetry can be.  


STAY THIRSTY: Your novel has been described as both "briskly-paced" and filled with "humor and heart" with a clear plot progression. About poems, however, you have said, "I love that they can go anywhere, and do. They can also go nowhere, and I like the honesty of that ending as well." How did you square the circle within yourself between these two very different forms of expression?

IDRA NOVEY: As a poet, I've always been interested in the ironies of conflicting versions of the same events, even if I wrote about them in a prose poem rather than as long form fiction. I've also been translating fiction for years and inhabiting the novels of other writers for many months at a time, which was a great apprenticeship to writing a novel of my own. 


STAY THIRSTY: Now that you have published your first novel, are you at heart more a novelist or a poet and why?

IDRA NOVEY: What's most important to me as a writer is to keep taking meaningful risks and exploring new questions and uncertainties regardless of which genre the writing may seem most aligned with for a reader. When I sit down to write, I ask myself: what is at stake in this sentence? And then I continue from there.



Idra Novey

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