Interviews

‘Literature Plays a Role in Creating Empathy’

Author Laurel Brett started writing at the tender age of eight, her first work being a story about the twenty-seventh letter of the English alphabet that was excluded from the regular alphabet. ‘It was a story about exclusion for being different and reflected my lifelong interest in social justice,’ begins the author, speaking to The Literary Juggernaut in an exclusive interaction. Letting us know that she starts her novels with a complete kernel of the book – story, plot, themes, setting, and characters, Ms Brett concedes she does not have a narrative voice and tells us that finding that voice is usually her first discovery. ‘Then, through the writing process, the acorn grows into an oak. Of course, unexpected elements are added along the way,’ she shares. 

Author Laurel Brett

Busy and Booked

Talking about her published works – a literary study of postmodern literature entitled ‘Disquiet on the Western Front: World War II and Postmodern Fiction’ and a New York Times reviewed novel named ‘The Schrodinger Girl,’ the latter having been published by Kaylie Jones Books for Akashic Press – Ms Brett, who lives in Port Jefferson, New York on Long Island, says the first book came about when her publisher, Cambridge Scholars, ran across a conference talk she had given and solicited a book proposal. 

‘The novel was an idea I had been working on for many years. In a class, Kaylie Jones helped me devise a new narrative strategy and published the novel in January of 2020. I am currently working on three books, The first, a novel, involves shenanigans in academia and is tragi-comic in tone. It is undergoing a final edit. the second, The Dirty Girl, is a memoir that has been edited once and is waiting for its final edit. I am 100 pages into a new novel,’ the author, who holds a doctorate in English and American literature along with an advanced certificate in creative writing,’ lets on. 

Inspired by Innovative Prose

An avid reader, Ms Brett, who follows no schedule to write on account of being actively involved in many a household chore besides conducting several classes at a time, tells us that she favours many authors. ‘Here is a small sample: Virginia Woolf, Doris Lessing, Iris Murdoch, Thomas Pynchon, Richard Powers, Kazuo Ishiguro, Michael Ondaatje, Arundhati Roy and Toni Morrison,’ she lists her favoured authors, adding, ‘These writers inspire me with their innovative prose and also because they push the envelope to explore the contradictions of the human condition with total bravery. Each is also a towering stylist.’

On being asked if becoming an author was a conscious decision she made, Ms Brett, who tends to sleep for only five hours a day, thanks to her busy schedule, says becoming an author was not only a conscious decision but a childhood dream. ‘But loving study and being practical, I became an academic instead. Then, when my children went to college, I made a conscious decision to realize this dream. I had never stopped writing, but I began to work to get my writing into the world,’ she explains.

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Connection ‘Matters’

Giving us a glimpse of her personal life, the author says that besides her vital human connections with her grown children, who happen to be her colleagues now, her husband, and her ninety-seven-year-old mother, she is very connected to a worldwide network of friends with whom she speaks to daily on social media platforms. ‘I chat with some over the phone. My interests have always included music and visual arts and gardens. I am devoted to our dogs, Tchotchke and Derrida, two bichon poos,’ she shares.

Having established herself as a professional writer, Ms Brett, who can also speak French albeit not very fluently, tells us that one of her works in progress deals with a young woman, a professional violinist, who was in a camp orchestra at Auschwitz. ‘She returns to Montreal in a borrowed body forty years later, meets Leonard Cohen in a café, and together they work to discover her mission. She is a folkloric character, an ibbur, a spirit who returns in corporeal form to do good in the world,’ she lets on. 

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‘If You Need to Tell a Story, Tell It’

Be that as it may, does she have anything to tell authors who get discouraged if their works don’t do well? ‘What would I want to tell budding authors? What would I want someone to tell me?’ questions Ms Brett, emphasising that she gets discouraged too. ‘I would say to budding novelists though that if you need to tell a story, tell it. It’s a message in a bottle. We don’t have much control over who it reaches, but the tale is still worth telling,’ she says. 

Fundamentally an atheist who believes that there is a spiritual element to humans and that becoming conscious of the spiritual dimension of life is fundamental to the human project, the author asserts that she would make the human race more empathetic and less self-absorbed. When asked if there is something that she would definitely want to see changed in the world, Ms Brett says that if we felt the sufferings of others as our own, we could not rampage around the globe destroying the lives of vulnerable people and animals and destroying our own environment. ‘I think literature plays a role in creating empathy,’ she pronounces.

The Final Word 

Ms Brett also feels that if we view ourselves as simply material beings, we miss half of the human experience. ‘Seeing a cardinal or a butterfly, laughing with a friend and understanding kindness are as essential as our bank accounts although, of course, paying our rent and procuring essentials of life are primary drives,’ she states. ‘Hearing a snatch of Bach or Mozart or the Beatles or Bob Dylan or hearing a Louise Glück poem read aloud can make my day. I fill my life with experiences that uplift me. It’s a privilege to write and connect to readers to become part of their lives,’ she adds, bringing the interaction to a wonderful close. 

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1 reply »

  1. Ms. Brett is a great inspiration to the literary world. Her concern for humanity and environment have to be appreciated. Let her good work continue.

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