Scibona discusses process of writing first novel

By Morgan Rosenberger
Staff Writer

On March 1, 2011, Salvatore Scibona gave a reading of one of his recently-published short stories at an event hosted by the Southwest Writers Series. Afterwards, he answered questions from the audience, and spoke about his highly-acclaimed first novel, “The End.”

On his website, Scibona describes his characters as taking on a life of their own. He did not create them — he depicted them. “Over time I came to think of them as real people, absolutely distinct from myself, whose free choices and characteristic obsessions, the unchosen dictates of personality and soul, would determine everything. In this sense, I do not consider myself the author of the book,” writes Scibona.

In “The End,” the story of a single day — August 15, 1953 — paints the lives of six individuals gathered at an Italian immigrant street carnival, each person a unique part of a tragic event that twists their lives together.

Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, a novelist and professor at the University of California, San Diego, described the novel as, “A masterful novel set amid racial upheaval in 1950s America, during the flight of second-generation immigrants from their once-necessary ghettos. Full of wisdom, consequence and grace, Salvatore Scibona’s radiant debut brims with the promise of a remarkable literary career, of which ‘The End’ is only the beginning.”

Scibona’s “The End” was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award, and winner of the Young Lions Fiction Award from the New York Public Library. He has also won the Norman Mailer Cape Cod Award for Exceptional Writing, the Whiting Writers’ Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. The New Yorker named him one of its “20 Under 40” writers to watch.

I spoke to Scibona about his writing career and the process of getting his book published.

THE RAVEN REVIEW: How long have you been writing?

Salvatore Scibona: I started in, oh, the fifth grade?

How did you decide writing was what you wanted to do with your life?

I had a lot of television in my house when I was growing up. I really started reading books in the 10th grade. It’s a transformative kind of experience. I mean, I played around with writing from the fifth grade onward. I wasn’t really committed to it. I didn’t really know why I was doing it, and I didn’t read very much, [but] when I started to read … I wanted to be a reader more than I wanted to be a writer. And then the writing grew from that experience, the deep experience of reading.

This is a tough question, but who would you pick as your favorite author?

Oh, that’s not hard! I mean, maybe not my number-one favorite, but I could give you a little list: Virginia Woolf, Don DeLillo, Homer, Pascal, Faulkner, Saul Bellow, George Eliot, Annie Dillard; and I like the Icelandic writer Halldor Laxness.

How would you describe your experience getting your first book published?

It was so long. It took over 10 years to write. Then I went through a whole lot of revision with my editor and then with other people at Graywolf Press and my wonderful copy editor, whom I’ve never met. When I was going over her marks, and they [were] so luminous and so exacting, I just loved it. I loved every minute of that. Then it came out to total silence for a little while. Then the big change for that book was the National Book Award nomination. It brought a whole lot more attention to the book that it wouldn’t have gotten, otherwise. And since then, we sold the paperback and the audio rights and a lot of translations. It’s so hit or miss. One gets lucky just to have readers that can find a book and let other people know about it.

How would you describe your writing to someone who has never read any of your works?

I honestly think I’m totally unqualified to say. I would leave that to anyone else.

This article appeared in the April 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.
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