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Lifelong Writing Obsession Leads to Debut Novel-2015

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Safekeeping by Jessamyn Hope\
Safekeeping
by Jessamyn Hope

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 An Authorlink Interview with Jessamyn Hope
By Columnist Doreen Akiyo Yomoah
April 2015

Jessamyn Hope talks to us about her first novel, Safekeeping, her time on a kibbutz, and her lifelong obsession with writing.

AUTHORLINK: So, this is your first novel. What type of writing and other work had you been doing and what made you decide to write a novel?

“The idea of writing a long version about your life is daunting, but I found that I could take looking honestly at myself in tidbits.
—HOPE

HOPE: Well, this is actually my first published novel. I had written a novel before and it didn’t find a home. I’ve written short stories and short memoir pieces. The idea of writing a long version about your life is daunting, but I found that I could take looking honestly at myself in tidbits. There’s this saying that you should write what you read and I read almost exclusively novels. I love them. There’s something about the experience of being alive, a nuance that can be explored in a long form. It’s not that I don’t respect the short story, though, I think it’s very hard to pull off— in some ways harder than a novel. They are very different works, and I’ve always been drawn to the longer form.

AUTHORLINK: How did you get ready to write a novel? Did you take classes or workshops?

HOPE: I wanted to be a writer when I was a child. I was addicted to Lucy Maud Montgomery [author of Anne of the Green Gables] books. In a lot of her books, there is a young woman who wants to be a writer. I related to those characters and became obsessed. At one point, I got distracted and wanted to be an actor. Either way it was always an obsession with story as a way to capture life. I became a writer in undergrad when I took a creative writing course and stopped concentrating on my other classes. [Hope attended Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.] Since then, I’ve been writing. I did an MFA at Sarah Lawrence College so that I could have two years to write without a day job, but in the end, I had a day job the whole time I was in grad school.

 
“I used to be resistant to workshops because I thought they would beat the originality out of you . . . But I have since changed my mind.”
—HOPE

I used to be resistant to workshops because I thought they would beat the originality out of you, and that the job of the workshop reader was to find fault in a story. But I have since changed my mind. Now I partake in them and host them at my apartment. It makes a big difference to have a community who cares as much as you do about writing, who can celebrate the acceptances together and commiserate over rejections. And they do provide good feedback on your work.

AUTHORLINK: What was in the inspiration for Safekeeping?

HOPE: The novel takes place on a kibbutz in 1994, and I lived on a kibbutz the summer of 1994 (and 95 and 96). There is an autobiographical element to the book, but it’s not about me. There was initially a character who looked and acted like me, but as I proceeded she got cut out. A kibbutz is based on socialist ideals. When I was there, it was at a time when they were starting to privatize. It raised a lot questions, and I started wondering about people sacrificing to start something. I wondered: if they knew it wasn’t going to work, would they still do it?

“Safekeeping is a multi-protagonist novel. It was a way for me to battle out the part of me that wants to be part of a grand political movement . . .”
—HOPE

AUTHORLINK: How was your experience on the kibbutz?

HOPE: It was extremely exciting for me— I had traveled a lot with my father; he is one of those people who feels it’s important to see the world— but I’d never yet traveled on my own. It was so different from anywhere else that I had ever lived. Everyone lived in a commune. We all ate in a general eating hall and people had grown up in a children’s house, not with their parents. It challenged a lot of ideas about socialism versus capitalism, the notion of the family unit, and individualism versus community. It was a very fascinating experience.

Safekeeping is a multi-protagonist novel. It was a way for me to battle out the part of me that wants to be part of a grand political movement and the part of me which is a very strict individualist. This tension might exist in a lot of artists. There is a firebrand character, Ziva, who moved to Palestine in the 1930s to start a kibbutz. She’s very much a collectivist; she believes the group is more important than the individual. She falls in love with this character, Franz, a Holocaust survivor, and they are not compatible. Franz is an individualist and wants to be left alone to enjoy his life, to be himself without constraint. The tension between them is a tension within me.

America is founded on this ideal of individualism, and I grew up in North America. [Hope is originally from Canada.] I very much believe in individualism, but on the other hand I feel the draw of being a part of something larger than oneself. A lot of people’s backgrounds are very communal. I’m Jewish and Italian, and both cultures are very much family and community-oriented. The two ways of being can battle each other within a modern person. I think a lot of people must feel this way.

AUTHORLINK: What do you have coming up next?

HOPE: I have ideas for another novel. I’m definitely going to write it, but this last novel took ten years between starting and going to print. When you start a novel you know it’s going to take a long time. There’s a lot of sacrifice. Most of the time I was writing I had a day job, and often when friends and family wanted to spend time with me, I had to say no and go to the computer. So before I commit to this next project, I want to be sure it’s the right one. But I am excited to start a new novel, to explore new aspects of being alive that I didn’t get to tackle in this one.

Right now the thing that’s on my mind is that the book went to print yesterday, so I’m going to be going on a book tour and looking for other ways to get it out into the world.

About the Author:

Jessamyn Hope’s fiction and memoirs have appeared in Ploughshares, Five Points, Colorado Review, Descant, and PRISM international, among other literary magazines. She was the Susannah McCorkle Scholar in Fiction at the 2012 Sewanee Writers Conference and has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. Originally from Montreal, Hope lived in Israel before moving to New York City. Learn more at www.jessamynhope.com.

About Doreen Akiyo Yomoah:

Doreen Akiyo Yomoah is a nomadic freelance writer, currently living in Dakar, Senegal. www.doreenakiyomoah.co.uk