MEMBER PROFILE: Wallace King



MEMBER PROFILE:Wallace King

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I joined PEN Center USA back in, I believe, 1995, following the publication of my second novel, Maybelleen.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
Its advocacy for the freedom to write and for the protection of those who do.

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?
When you think in terms of the power of words to effect change in the human condition, whether written in the past and still read today, or written today to be read in the future, you realize that words are the essence of humankind. They are our wonder, our mystery, our joy and our sorrow.

Words are us. They are our very humanity. A woman in China writing of her world to be read in Australia. An Australian boy writing of his life to be read in Sri Lanka. Someone in South Africa telling us of their hopes, their fears. The written word ties us all together. These words come from deep inside of us. This place is inviolate. No one owns this place. No country, no state. And we must fight forever to keep the written word for everyone, everywhere, free from censure. Without these words, handed down through centuries, how would we know who we are?

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?
There are a lot of great socially conscious media tools out there. Charitweet is one I’ve become aware of through a mention on Facebook. You can donate to One World Literacy, The Rainforest Foundation, and many other worthy nonprofits by simply tweeting. Rather brilliant.

And, of course, PEN Center USA comes to mind. They’re pretty much on every platform, working to bring awareness to their very important mission, engaging those they might not reach otherwise.

What is the one book you wish you had written and why?
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I read it years ago when I was much younger and it made a great impact on me. I picked it up last year out of curiosity to see if I thought it was still as compelling. I was astonished at how current, how very good it is. I believed every character, even the “bad” actors in the dystopian world that Atwood masterfully creates. Then, to be so prescient is proof of a spectacular ability to engage with hypothetical what-ifs, and make them so real that we could almost believe that they’re true. Today, at least some aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale might be said to be a disturbing potential reality.

To say I wish I could have written The Handmaid’s Tale is actually absurd. Only Atwood could have written this novel. To write a book with such a powerful vision is a high bar that I can only aim for.

What is your favorite quote?
“A book is a loaded gun . . .”—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
You know this is an almost impossible question, don’t you? Well, right at this moment, just off the top of my head, I’m torn between Toni Morrison, Mary Shelley, and Rachel Kushner. All would be fascinating and I’d be so in awe, I’d likely spill food on myself. However, a lot of writers are kind of shy in person—I know I can be. So, since you’re forcing me into only one guest, I’d want an amazing conversationalist, someone who knew good wine, and someone who would make me grin even while spilling food on myself. I think, therefore, I’m going to go with Mr. Oscar Wilde.

What are you working on now?
The novel that follows Edenland is called Perpetual Happiness. It’s set in New Orleans in 2010 and moves backward to 1937. It’s told by a seventy-six-year-old woman living out her last days at the fictional James Bell Hood Motel on the seedy outskirts of the French Quarter. She is determinedly typing the story of her life for the daughter she had to give up for adoption at the age of seventeen into a used Dell laptop she won at Bingo. It’s about mistakes, both deliberate and unplanned, the ripples or great waves they make, and what becomes of us when we face our true selves.

Wallace King is a novelist and former screenwriter. She studied writing in New York at Barnard College and New York University. Her debut novel, The True Life Story of Isobel Roundtree, received starred reviews and was nominated for a number of awards. Her second novel, Maybelleen, explores how history is never written the same way by two people and the ties that bind us through ancestry. Both novels were optioned and adapted for film. After a number of years writing for the screen, Wallace has returned full time to fiction. Her new novel, Edenland, was published in May of this year. She will read at Chevalier’s Books on August 10, 2016.