Novelist Ottessa Moshfegh reads and writes about the past

Author Ottessa Moshfegh. Photo by Krystal Griffiths.
Author Ottessa Moshfegh. Photo by Krystal Griffiths.
Published Dec. 30, 2018

Ottessa Moshfegh

Moshfegh's novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation is set in the days leading up to Sept. 11, 2001. It concerns an unnamed narrator — blond, wealthy and into drug prescriptions that support long, deep sleeps. Although the woman is peculiar, the story, at once witty and tragic, is more about shedding pieces of one's routine existence than self-medication. Moshfegh, 37, holds a master's degree from Brown University and is also the author of the novella McGlue and Eileen, a novel shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize. She is making a stop this week at the University of Tampa, kicking off the school's Lectores Public Reading Series. (See schedule.)

What's on your nightstand?

I am reading a really interesting nonfiction book published by University of California Press. It's called Unbound Feet by Judy Yung. It is illuminating. I've been doing research on the history of Chinese in California. It's about Chinese women who immigrated to San Francisco in the 19th century. It's for my work on a semihistorical novel, which takes place between Shanghai and San Francisco.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I sort of realized it in my early teens, although I always loved books and felt a sensitivity towards language. I didn't want to be a writer, though, until I started writing. That was when I was 13.

Do you feel your writing style has transformed due to the changes in the publishing industry from print to digital?

I guess my answer is I have written short stories that are in the contemporary world. They are set in the present day, but I never have written a novel in the present day. That is particularly because technology changes the way the human narrative moves. There are so many modes of communication now. It can complicate a story. However, I probably stopped paying attention to the shift in literary technology in my 20s. I'm not on social media. I don't like the language and energy of it. I've never read a book on a tablet, although I'm also happy that people are reading that way.

What are your plans for your appearance in Tampa?

I think I want to read a new short story I have. I also want to hold a discussion with the audience. I enjoy that part of something like this, the Q and A part. I'm looking forward to it.

Piper Castillo, Times staff writer

Lectores schedule

The University of Tampa's low-residency creative writing program presents its January Lectores reading series. All readings are free and begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Vaughn Center, 200 UT Poe Parkway, Tampa.

Jan. 3: Fiction writer Ottessa Moshfegh (My Year of Rest and Relaxation)

Jan. 4: Novelist Sarah Perry (After the Eclipse)

Jan. 5: Poet Ira Sukrungruang (In Thailand It Is Night)

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Jan. 6: Poets Sandra Beasley (Count the Waves) and Erica Dawson (When Rap Spoke Straight to God)

Jan. 8: Poet Meg Day (Last Psalm at Sea Level)

Jan. 9: Novelist Kate Christensen (The Last Cruise)

Jan. 10: Fiction writer Kevin Moffett (Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events)