On 10 October, UEA kicked off their autumn literary festival with an interview with none other than Nobel Prize winner and UEA alumni, Kazuo Ishiguro. It was a night filled with deep conversations, humor and modesty.
The interviewer, Professor Chris Bigsby, started by asking Ishiguro about the Nobel Prize. He did not expect this award at all, with the press hearing about it before he did.
Ishiguro said: “A Nobel Prize is an important thing. It’s even bigger than me and bigger than books. As a society, we have a conversation about what kinds of values we want to exalt. In some extent, the Nobel Prize is a symbol for that.”
Ishiguro then talked about his most recent book, The Buried Giant, the importance of his wife’s opinion, and his short story collection. On the last subject, the interviewer mentioned Nocturnes is different to what we’re used to seeing in Ishiguro’s work. T
To this, the writer responded that a short story is an amazing form of art, but tends to be overlooked by many readers, despite the number of talented writers in this field. Even though readers have less free time, they still don’t read short stories a lot, he said. Ishiguro said he completed his first short story collection in one sitting. He said he prefers to call it a “story cycle”, though, because all of the stories are cohesive in his book.
He touched on the subject of the Second World War following questions on his book When We Were Orphans. The story is set in Shanghai, just before the war. When Prof Bigsby asked why Ishiguro decided to write about the war, he said: “When we, as a new generation of writers, emerged in the eighties, a lot of us wanted to write about the war. We still lived in a post-war environment and had a lot of envy for writers in less wealthy countries. Our solution was to try and write stuff as important as what they were doing.”
Ishiguro gave a fascinating insight when Prof Bigsby asked about genres. He said: “Who decided genres in the first place? They just prejudice the reader.”
He said society’s look on science-fiction and fantasy have changed a lot in the last 15 years. In the past, he said, children were brought up in a different way, with fantasy discouraged. Ishiguro said that what we admire now are the weird and geeky superstars.
His point ended with us: the next generation of writers.
“The Second World War is too far away for the newest generation, living in a stable environment. I’ve often wondered what our responsibility is as a generation, linking with the Second World War and the extent to which it’s our job to protect their legacy”, he said.