Member Profile: Aline Ohanesian

MEMBER PROFILE: Aline Ohanesian

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I became a PEN Center USA member when I started working on my first novel, set in the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian genocide. It is still illegal and punishable by law to discuss that history in Turkey because it’s considered “insulting to Turkishness.”

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
I appreciate the community building that occurs through PEN Center USA, but I believe the work that’s being done to ensure freedom of expression throughout the world is by far more meaningful and important.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
I wouldn’t be able to write my book in Turkey. No one will publish it there. It’s too dangerous. Social justice is at the core of all my stories, so the freedom to write is sacred to me.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
I think journalists who use Twitter are the best example of what is possible in the digital age, especially in places where freedom of press/speech is not a given. On Twitter, I follow Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch, Erol Onderoglu of Reporters Without Borders, and journalsist Amberin Zaman, among others. *Erol was recently arrested in Istanbul.

What is the one book you wish you had written and why?
I’m writing it now. Isn’t that what all novelists do? If the question is more about who I admire, then I have to say Edward P. Jones, Hillary Mantle, Louis Erdrich, Zadie Smith, Barbara Kingsolver, etc.

What is your favorite quote?
“Language is the house of being. In its home, man dwells. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home.” It’s from Martin Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism.”

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
I’d love to get tipsy with Zadie Smith. We could discuss a broad range of topics, including motherhood, rap music, and literature, of course. I met her once and became an even bigger fan of her work after the encounter, which I didn’t think was possible. I predict she and Angela Flournoy would really get along, so in a perfect world, it would be a merry threesome.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a historical literary novel that takes place in 12th century BC in the Aegean and turns a foundation myth of Western civilization on its head.

Aline Ohanesian is the author of the debut novel, Orhan’s Inheritance (Algonquin Books, 2015) which was a finalist for the Center For Fiction First Book Prize, a B&N Discovery Pick, an Indie #1 Pick, an Amazon Editor’s Pick, and a finalist for the 2016 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.