There are few things more important to me than writing and literature. I think that the classroom is one of the remaining vibrant spaces, an exciting and often electric place, wherein participants can explore and discuss creative writing, and have experiences that open up their work in unexpected ways. I require students to read a lot, knowing that for writers to improve and achieve mastery, they must read and learn from masterful writers. I believe that the books are our teachers, but also that the writing teacher is a guide, through texts and also through student works-in-progress. When I work with students, I often draw from and reflect upon my own experiences as a writer. Writing is obviously a solitary act, but I believe that those of us who us who spend our lives using words to make art and story benefit greatly from collaboration and exchange.
I have just finished a trilogy of novels, which I have worked on for the past eight years. My first novel, Three Apples Fell From Heaven, was published in 2001 (Riverhead Books). It follows the lives of a handful of characters in the towns of Kharphert and Mezre in eastern Turkey during the First World War when the massacres and deportations of Armenians were carried out. This book was inspired, initially, by the stories of my maternal grandparents who both survived the Armenian Genocide and who later fled to Beirut, Lebanon where they lived in exile. Three Apples Fell From Heaven was a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times and Washington Post Book of the Year in 2001. It was also Runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway Award. The second book in the trilogy, The Daydreaming Boy, was published in 2004 (Riverhead Books). It follows the life of an Armenian war orphan and refugee in Beirut, Lebanon, who in his mid-life begins to remember his childhood in the orphanage, and to contemplate his existence in diaspora. The book was named the PEN/USA Fiction winner for 2005. The third book, Draining the Sea, forthcoming in Winter 2008 (Riverhead Books), is about a half-Armenian man in Los Angeles and his obsession with a Guatemalan woman who is Ixil-Maya and who herself suffers through the massacres during the Guatemalan civil conflict and scorched earth campaign of the 1980’s.
I received a Lannan Literary Fellowship in 2004, and a Whiting Award in 2006. I have been teaching at Mills College in the Creative Writing program for the past four and a half years.