Kobo Writing Life Podcast

Colson Whitehead, is the author of Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN Oakland Award.

Colson is interviewed by Kobo’s Nora Parker about his latest book, The Underground Railroad, which is an Oprah's Book Club pick.

  • Whitehead’s decision to play with the quirky premise of “what if the underground railroad was a real railroad?”
  • The navigation of research and how it gets interwoven into the fiction; but the fact that this is not a historical novel and that it doesn’t stick to any real world chronology
  • The freeing aspect of not being beholden to reality when crafting a novel
  • The manner by which the novel addresses the two opposing viewpoints and biases that take the same passage(s) from the bible and use it to either oppose or support slavery
  • The choice of the opening setting in North Carolina and the different arenas for Cora to be tested, and how that allowed for the examination of different types of racism and social structures
  • The concepts of racism in pre-Civil War America to the concepts of racism as it exists today in modern America
  • The historic use of rendering of dialect in the dialogue between white and black characters compared to how it is done in this novel
  • The music Whitehead listens to while writing, when he listens to Purple Rain from Prince and Debut Nation from Sonic Youth and how David Bowie is in every book
  • How Whitehead felt about being selected for the Oprah Book Club
  • The adept characterization and relationships of the kids in Whitehead’s novel Sag Harbor and how the characters evolved from inspiration from real people into their own unique fictional characters within the novel

KWL Director Mark Lefebvre talks about the concept of writers listening to music while working and then asks KWL listeners to share their own habits and practices when it comes to listening to (or not listening to) music or other ambient noises while writing.

Direct download: KWL_Podcast_EP_073_ColsonWhitehead.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:12pm PDT

Described as “One of the most harrowing, powerful, and imaginative books of the year” Affinity Konar’s MISCHLING is a novel about twin sisters fighting to survive the evils of World War II. As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele's Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.

Affinity is interviewed by Kobo Merchandising Coordinator, Nora Parker during an intimate Kobo Café gathering at Kobo just a few weeks ago. During the interview, Nora and Affinity discuss:

  • The genesis of the story and how it was in the author’s head for at least 10 years before she wrote it
  • The intersection between research, historical accuracy and the creativity of the fictional writing
  • How many times Affinity had “put the book down” and then other elements in her life kept bringing her back to it
  • How Affinity struggled for a long time on the manner by which to depict Josef Mengele in the novel
  • The question of justice which both twins end up struggling with at various points throughout the novel and the role that memory plays in that
  • The manner by which beauty figures as an antidote to the horrors of the world and how the author spent a lot of time dwelling on what exactly beauty was and is
  • Concepts of how language might be able to express, or perhaps even fail at expressing the atrocities and the author’s desire to have the reader consciously quibble with the particular word or words that she chose within particular passages as a way to illustrate, in a concrete way, that challenge
  • The origin of the title (Mischling) as a word Affinity came across when she was young, thinking it was a very pretty word and then, later, learning it’s horrific definition and use
  • How the book began with the voice of Stasha, and, when Pearl, her twin came along later, how conscious Affinity was regarding her voice and the satisfying challenge that came from that
  • How the moments of light and joy within the darkness of the novel came quite naturally to Affinity while writing the book (and the manner by which they both add to the experience of reading novel and were among Affinity’s favorite moments to write)
  • The real-life twins, Eva and Miram Mozes, who were very inspirational to the author


Kobo Writing Life Director Mark Lefebvre then talks about two specific points from the interview that he wanted to draw attention to for writers. First, he draws attention to the mention of the use of humor in this text and then outlines some things to consider when implementing humor into an overall serious or dark and disturbing narrative.

Next, Lefebvre talks about the “ten years” that were behind the creation of this novel and reflects on the fact that there is no one way for authors to write. That some writers can write a book in an extremely short time period while others might take a significantly longer amount of time to write a book. He reflects on the writer ailment of “comparisonitis” (as described by Joanna Penn) that can happen and cautions writers not to feel bad if their own process or timelines are different than other writers. There’s no one answer, there’s no one solution, there’s no single path to one’s own personal goals or successes in a writing career, and different books might call for different approaches. They key is not to compare and despair, but to discover what works best for you to make it the best possible book that you can.


Affinity Konar’s Books on Kobo


Affinity Konar on Instagram


Direct download: KWL_Podcast_EP_072_AffinityKonar.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:58pm PDT