I had a professor in college who maintained that writers write about artists in other disciplines—painters, musicians, sculptors, etc.—when they want to write about writers without actually writing about writers. There’s probably something to this. Most writers are preoccupied with the struggles of trying to create something, and writers’ preoccupations have a way of making their way onto the page. Of course, writers do also just write about writers (I see you, Philip Roth!). But perhaps there’s an instinct to portray the artistic struggle using media that are inherently more dramatic—more interpersonal, richer in sensory detail—than the act of writing, which on one level really just looks like sitting alone in front of a computer or a piece of paper a lot of the time.
The differences between disciplines also suit them for different roles in a story, though, I think. Music—the performance of music, anyway—lasts for a set period of time, and enfolds the performer and the listener at once; because of these characteristics, music allows a writer to create and play with particular kinds of tension.
Perhaps living through Alaska’s long dark winter gives a writer extra insight into melancholy. Certainly Ivey’s scarred, sad characters are drawn with exquisite empathy. Everyone here carries burdens, both literal and metaphorical. And there is no easy unburdening. Love doesn’t always save the day for these characters. For some, it is only an added weight, an additional snare.
When Nigerian chef Tunde Wey brings people together over a beautiful meal to talk about some of the ugliest problems facing our country — racism, sexism, police brutality — he can’t help but notice one recurring theme. After the people of color in the room have voiced their frustrations, fears and sorrows, someone — usually a white ally — would ask, “So what’s the solution?”
“White folks or privileged folks are quick to try to find a solution, or ask for a solution, as opposed to sitting in the discomfort,” said Wey. “How do you answer what the solution is to racism or systemic injustices?”