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AAWW at Home with Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

The author of Starling Days on the hunger relief organization Feeding America and “100 Things About Writing a Novel”

As we continue to shelter in place, our series AAWW at Home connects you to writers we love as they tell us what they’re reading, mutual aid efforts and organizations they are supporting, and more.

Today, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, the author of Starling Days, which was published in the U.S. in April, comes to us from the U.K.. Starling Days has been described as a “supreme gift of a novel, a rare opportunity to love and forgive our darkest and most shimmering selves” (T. Kira Madden), and can be found on Kundiman’s great list of books to read this Asian Pacific American Heritage month. Rowan talks about supporting the hunger relief organization Feeding America and illustrator Carson Ellis’s Quaratine Art Club, and she reads from Alexander Chee’s essay “100 things About Writing a Novel” from his book How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. You can read a transcript of Rowan’s message below.

The following is a transcript of the video above.

Hi, my name is Rowan Hisayo Buchanan. I’m the author of two novels, Harmless Like You and Starling Days. This is British edition. I actually thought I would be touring the American edition which just came out right now. But instead, I’m at my desk recording this for you.

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop asked me to talk about some of the things that I find particularly encouraging during this time. And first of all, it’s seeing the ways our communities are coming together and supporting each other. A cause I particularly admire is Feeding America, which is a hunger relief organization. Their work is clearly so important at any time, but right now when people’s jobs are on the line and their finances are precarious, they’re a particularly good cause to think about donating to.

On a personal level, one of the things that brings me light is of course books and writers. And so I thought I would read to you a little bit of an essay by a writer I particularly admire, Alexander Chee. So this is How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee. And I’m going to read to you from an essay called, “100 Things About Writing a Novel,” though I’m only going to read you the first ten.


1. Sometimes music is needed.

2. Sometimes silence.

3. A novel, like all written things, is a piece of music, the language demanding you make a sound as you read it. Writing one, then, is like remembering a song you’ve never heard before.

4. I have written them on subways, missing stops, as people do when reading them.

5. They can begin with the implications of a situation. A person who is like this in a place that is like this, an integer set into the heart of an equation and new values, everywhere.

6. The person and the situation typically arrive together. I am standing somewhere and watch as both appear, move toward each other, and transform.

7. Alice through the looking-glass, who, on the other side, finds herself to be an Alex.

8. Or it is like having imaginary friends that are the length of city blocks. The pages you write like fingerprinting them, done to prove to strangers they exist.

9. Reading a novel, then, is the miracle of being shown such a fingerprint and being able to guess the face, the way she walks, the times she fell in love incorrectly or to bad result, etc.

10. The novel is the most precise analogy the writer can make to what was seen in the rooms and trains and skies and summer nights and parties where the novel was written, as the writer walked in moments with the enormous imaginary friend before returning to the others, which is to say, the writer’s life.


So, you should get this book if you want to hear the other things.

Other than books, which are of course the closest pleasure to my nerdy heart, I have a dog. You may hear her in the background–she is gnawing a shoe that I gave her so that she wouldn’t come on to camera, but it might have backfired. She loves it right now, she has no idea what’s going on.

That, and looking at the work of artists and illustrators. There’s an illustrator I particularly admire named Carson Ellis, and she’s doing a daily drawing prompt. Anyone can do it at any skill level and it’s on her Instagram, so if that sounds like your sort of thing I recommend you check it out. 

That’s it for me. I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe.

Find your local food bank to donate to on Feeding America’s website.

Order a copy of Rowan’s new novel Starling Days.