Before becoming one of the most celebrated contemporary fiction authors in the world, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first love was writing songs.
“From the age of 15, I was really passionate about composing songs,” says the Japanese-born British novelist, who is the winner of the Tulsa Library Trust’s 2013 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. “Like a lot of teenage boys, I was a pathetic reader; I never contemplated becoming an author.”
In his early 20s, Ishiguro abandoned his boyhood dream to write songs when he was accepted into Malcolm Bradbury’s creative writing program at the University of East Anglia, where he started his first novel, A Pale View of Hills. He says he couldn’t write songs and novels at the same time, so he hung up his songwriter’s hat. (He retrieved it about five years ago when he was asked to write songs for American jazz artist Stacey Kent.)
“As the years have gone by, I think that a lot of the way I write fiction was shaped by my early songwriting,” says Ishiguro. “Like in songwriting, the meaning of my novels and short stories tends to fall between the lines. I like that quiet surface.”
Ishiguro’s novels commonly deal with issues of memory, self-deception and codes of etiquette, which lead his characters to re-evaluate their successes or failures. His novels include the 1989 Man Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day, which was adapted into an award-winning feature film in 1993 starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson; An Artist of the Floating World; The Unconsoled; When We Were Orphans; and Never Let Me Go, which was adapted into a feature film in 2010 for which he served as executive producer. His most recent work is Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall.
“Each of my books was written in a very different time in my life,” says Ishiguro, when asked if he has a favorite. “For better or worse, each represents me in that time.”
Currently, he is finishing a novel that he hopes will be published in 2014. He started it about five to six years ago but briefly stepped away when his wife, Lorna, who is his best sounding board, told him that she thought it was terrible and that he should just drop it.
“In fact, she says it was atrocious,” says Ishiguro. “I was a bit naughty, though, and went back to it but kept it a bit ambiguous from her. I’ve reworked it, but it’s the same project without a doubt. I don’t generally like to give away too much before it gets published. But I will tell you that it is set around the year 500 in Great Britain. There’s a mysterious blank in British history once the Roman Empire left and before the Anglo Saxons came. There probably was another race here before the Anglo Saxons arrived; [the Anglo Saxons] might have killed them off. Nobody knows what happened to them. It gives me an amount of freedom to speculate what happened to them. I don’t have any historical interest in this time period; it’s just pragmatic.”
Through his career, Ishiguro says this question of setting tends to dominate how his books are read.
“If I set a book in Japan or Great Britain, people seem to think it’s about something political or cultural. I am not a historian. There’s a part of me that wants to be liberated from those concerns. There is a certain freedom that comes when you choose a period that people don’t care about. That is why I was drawn to this time period for my new book. I want my story to be read as universal.”
Award presentation at black-tie dinner:
7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 6
Southern Hills Country Club, 2636 E. 61st St.
FREE Public Presentation:
10:30 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 7
Hardesty Regional Library, Connor's Cove, 8316 E. 93rd St.