Event Recap: Alexander Chee Launches How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

A big thank you to Alexander Chee for joining us last week, for the launch of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (in stores now!). And a big thank you to Guernica co-editor Hillary Brenhouse for being in conversation. The two had such an interesting talk, much to the delight of our packed house.

Of his transition into essay writing, Chee located it in the writing process of his novel. “When I would be stuck with the novel, I would work on an essay. And it was a way of just feeling like I wasn’t... spinning” he said.

Chee outlined the care he approaches to his work, and brought up a writer friends fascinating methodology to her own work. She, a tarot reader, combined her knowledge of one medium with the other. “As a creative writing exercise,” Chee said, “she gives her works in process readings. Which is a really fascinating process.”

On the topic of astrological readings, Chee read from an apt section of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel—the chapter titled, “The Querent” referring to one who seeks questions in their readings.

The windows of our sweet La Petite D+Q were lined with roses in honour of Chee’s gorgeous essay reflecting on his experience with those very flowers. Of rose gardening Chee said, “I think I also learned stamina, patience in the face of mistakes, and a way to live with the result that is unplanned.”

Of the line between biography and novel writing, Chee referenced an admiration of the way graphic novel memoirists approach their work. Claiming that the medium seemed, “ like a natural way to write about yourself, to make this legible character of yourself, and to create these description of your life in that form.”

Possibly the most uplifting and wonderful moment of the evening, came about when Brenhouse asked Chee how he felt as an older activist, aware of the challenges the oppressed once felt, as well as the challenges the oppressed continue to. I think it’s really important to remember Chee’s answer, and to head to your local bookstore after you do. Of Queer Literature, he said, “It’s one of the most interesting and exciting parts about being alive right now, I think, for me. It is the possibility of that conversation, the results of that conversation—the ongoing quality.”

Thank you Alexander Chee & Hillary Brenhouse!

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