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Wednesday
Sep072016

"We Are the Privileged Ones Who Can": An Interview with Thirii Myint

Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint was born in Yangon, Burma and grew up in Bangkok, Thailand and San Jose, California. She is a PhD candidate in English-Creative Writing at the University of Denver and the Assistant Editor of the Denver Quarterly. She received an MFA in Prose from the University of Notre Dame and has been awarded residences and scholarships from Hedgebrook, Tin House, and Summer Literary Seminars. Her short stories have appeared in Caketrain, The Kenyon Review Online, The Literarian, Sleepingfish, Quarterly West, and elsewhere, and has been translated into and published in Burmese and Lithuanian. Her first book, The End of Peril, the End of Enmity, the End of Strife, A Haven will be published by Noemi Press in early 2018.

Her three stories, “Le Domaine,” “Staré Město,” and “El desaparecido," appeared in Issue Eight-Three of The Collagist.

Here, Thirii Myint talks with interviewer William Hoffacker about triptychs, travel abroad, and winter.

Did you write these three stories intending for them to be read together? Are they parts of a set or a larger project that you can describe? (If not, what can you tell us about their separate origins?)

I wrote the three stories in the order that they appear, but I didn’t know that they would go together until I had completed a draft of the last one. The first two stories started out as writing exercises: I gave myself the constraint of adopting the voice and structure of a famous male writer who was very different from me. “Le Domaine” was my attempt at a Patrick Modiano story and “Staré Město” was my attempt at a Roberto Bolaño story. When I finished the first two stories, I realized they had escaped their constraints and I didn’t feel the need to model “el desaparecido” after another writer. I don’t know why I stopped at three stories, instead of six or ten, but the number three has always been important for me, and ever since I read Marie Redonnet’s triptych, I’ve been obsessed with writing triptychs of my own.

Your stories’ titles—“Le Domaine,” “Staré Město,” and “El desaparecido”—are written in three languages: French, Czech, and Spanish, respectively. What is your connection to or interest in these three languages and/or the places that serve as these stories’ settings?

I lived in Madrid for a year soon after college, and while I was in Europe I traveled to wherever I had a couch to sleep on. Growing up, my family never went on vacation, so traveling for me became a marker of my independence and adulthood, but also a marker of my privilege and isolation. I don’t speak French or Czech at all, but I have been to the south of France and to Prague, and the landscapes of both places deeply impressed me. They were so beautiful, but I was alone, and I remember feeling very nostalgic.

All three stories have a first-person narrator and an absent character to whom they have some connection (the dead brother, Alice, and Manuel). The effect, for me, was the feeling that all three narrators are telling someone else’s story as much as their own, and perhaps they do so out of some sense of obligation. What do you consider to be these narrators’ motives for telling their stories? Why do you think this pattern emerged among these three stories?

It’s hard for me to write a piece where the narrator sets out to tell her own story. How does anyone go about telling his or her own story? When a narrator is trying to tell someone else’s story, however, it gives me an opening. I can write about the narrator while she is looking the other way. I also like being in the same boat with my narrator, both of us trying and failing to tell other people’s stories. Maybe the narrators feel obliged to narrate for the same reason I do, because we are the privileged ones who can, but maybe another way to look at it is that they are the ones who haven’t been able to let go of the past yet.

How would you describe your revision process, using any or all of these stories as an example? How much did it/they change from the first draft to the final? Did you have to make any tough decisions along the way?

I’m an incredibly slow writer because I revise as I go. Sometimes it takes me an hour just to write a sentence. I’m totally unproductive and obsessive. This means that by the time I’ve completed a draft, I’m exhausted and never want to look at what I’ve written again. When I completed my first draft of “Staré Město,” for example, it took months—and a deadline from a workshop—for me to build up the courage and energy to go back to it. “Le Domaine” and “el desaparecido” did not change very much from their first drafts to their finals, but “Staré Město” came into being through revisions. The first draft of that story was just a melancholy person getting lost in the snow; it wasn’t really a story. It was only after I finished “el desaparecido” and I could look at the three stories as a whole, that Alice and her relationship to the narrator emerged as something of substance, something that had a story inside of it.

What writing projects are you working on now?

For the past six months now, I’ve been very slowly working toward a new piece about a city in which the dead are naturally embalmed by the city’s water, and become glittering tourist attractions. I don’t yet how long the piece will be or what it’ll ultimately be about, but so far I have two women walking around bike paths and riding buses and obviously one is in unrequited love with the other.

What have you read recently that you’d like to recommend?

I’ve been re-reading some of my old favorites in preparation for a creative writing class I’m teaching this winter on writing about winter, and I love The Ice Palace by the Norwegian writer Tarjei Vessas, and Ice by Anna Kavan.

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