Where does a story begin? If you ask Katie Kitamura, it begins with “a moral predicament.” While serving as fiction faculty for the Sewanee Writers’ Conference this summer, Kitamura spoke with editor-at-large Brandon Taylor about her latest novel, Intimacies, as well as her 2017 novel, A Separation, and how her work explores not only the pitfalls of relationships but also of personal reckonings.
Their conversation traces Kitamura’s influences—the social dramas of Ibsen to Taylor’s own Filthy Animals—and they discuss her love of writing “set pieces.” And although Kitamura credits location as being one of the central features of her novels, she hopes her work explores the inner landscapes of the self: “One of the most uncanny, everyday occurrences is when you look at the person who you think you know best in the world and they seem to be a stranger to you. . . . I have that feeling all of the time. I guess because I am a fiction writer I’m very interested in living inside of that feeling.”
The uncertainty and ambivalence of Kitamura’s characters reflect the unpredictability in her own novel writing, and how placing characters in impossible situations or moral quandaries allow for greater growth as a writer: “I always feel like if I know I can pull off a scene, then that already feels like a failure to me. I want to write something where I don't know if I'll be able to pull it off, or the proposition seems risky and the likelihood of failure is very much there. Writers are like sharks,” insists Kitamura, “you have to keep moving or else you’ll die.”
The Sewanee Review Podcast is recorded in the Ralston Listening Room at the University of the South. This episode is produced by Jennie Vite and edited by ProPodcast Solutions with music by Annie Bowers. Don’t miss any of our conversations with some of today’s best writers. Subscribe to the Sewanee Review Podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Katie Kitamura and Brandon Taylor’s books are available for purchase from Bookshop.org.