Controversy—or what some may call, “getting canceled”—doesn’t exist for author Hanya Yanagihara. She doesn’t look at Twitter or news or reviews about herself or her books. She just writes, minds her business, and works her full-time job as editor-in-chief of T, a New York Times magazine. Recently, The Guardian interviewed Yanagihara about the controversy of her novels and her take on American history. Needless to say, she isn’t afraid to be critical of the home she grew up in.
The interview celebrates her novel, To Paradise, which, having been released only on January 11, has already been claimed a masterpiece. The story follows three generations in America, one hundred years apart and vastly different from one another. She reviews the ideas of a post-Civil War America for people of color, the Aids epidemic, and a hypothetical nation under totalitarian rule. But what brings these versions of America together are the people who do their best to make everything right.
And through it all, Yanagihara tells the story of America’s history as it is, which may not necessarily be the same as it is told to us through history books. She states, “The idea of sacrifice for a kind of freedom, the idea of personal freedom, as opposed to social freedom, the idea of a freedom for some, but not for all – these are questions that are integral to the founding, and continuation, of America.” Even these last couple of years have provided for a movement of criticism regarding American history, how it is taught, and how it should be thought of as we move forward. “We’re often renaming things in the United States, either to eradicate a bad memory or to try to dissociate it from a person,” she says, perhaps commenting on the petitions to remove various Confederate monuments celebrating a South that was deeply and inherently racist. Bt, she alludes, that renaming something doesn’t change what it fundamentally is.
On the topic of controversial stories, Yanagihara herself has been criticized for her acclaimed story, A Little Life, which tells the story of gay men in New York. Some may question why Yanagihara would write such a story when she is very obviously not a gay man. Regarding the story’s subject matter, the author says, “I have the right to write about whatever I want. The only thing a reader can judge is whether I have done so well or not.” And according to many, A Little Life is written very well.
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FEATURED IMAGE VIA THE TIMES UK