Michael Levy is an educator, writer, and traveler, currently living in Brooklyn, New York where he teaches high school history. His memoir, Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion, was chosen by Barnes and Noble as the best book by a new author in 2012.
Why I write
Any of my writing that becomes public begins as just the opposite– very personal, very private. I write to process my experiences; to better understand myself and the world; to stay sane! Some of these ramblings take the form of a semi-coherent narrative, and these are the stories I start to massage into something meant for eyes other than my own.
What sort of writing habits do you keep?
I am in the Murakami school of thought on this one – writers need to work their writing muscles, and long writing projects require marathon-like attention. But since my day job takes so much of my band-width, I tend to get out of shape. This makes for some painful writing sessions that come in stops and starts.
Describe the physical domain of your writing space…
Kosher Chinese was written in a quiet room with a fire place in rural New Hampshire. There were no distractions, and from the tiny window next to my desk, I had a view of a duck pond and a river. It was heaven! Since moving to Brooklyn, I’ve found that I hit my writing stride in public places; there’s a bar near me that serves freshly brewed kombucha. I tend to post up there one or two afternoons a week.
Do you ever doubt your own ability as a writer?
My doubts don’t manifest in this way, exactly. What I often doubt is my perceptions. I wonder if what I’ve seen is accurate enough to broadcast to others. Those who write about one culture, and present it to another, have a responsibility to work carefully, judiciously, and with some humility. There are some fantastic non-Chinese writers offering presentations of this kind about China. Peter Hessler has been the best of this group for a long while now, but there are plenty of other writers who I believe have just the right kind of doubt… not in their abilities as writers, exactly. More in their abilities as cultural translators.
Contemporary writer in any medium you always read?
Is it cheating if I say I always listen to Kaiser Kuo? Best podcast out there on China.
Favorite Chinese writer?
Yiyun Li is my favorite author of Chinese descent. The Vagrants is the Breaking Bad of literature from China – raw, dark, and impossible to ignore.
What are you working on and when is it out?
I’ve been buried by my day job, with Avenues: The World School, and happily it will bring me back to China. We opened our first campus in New York last year, and are planning a campus in Beijing. Come December, it’s bye-bye Brooklyn, ni hao Beijing. The project should give me plenty of new topics to write about!
Posted: Thursday, September 26, 2013