Author Rachel Kushner Discusses Being Called "Doctor" And Her "Shared Destiny" with Kalamazoo

Feb 14, 2014

Rachel Kushner
Credit Courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

Writer Rachel Kushner can call any number of places home - Oregon, where she was born, San Francisco, where she was raised, New York, where she attended grad school and was a magazine editor - but it's Kalamazoo where she feels a special kinship.

"Maybe there's something about that," Kushner muses. Me and Kalamazoo have some kind of shared destiny."

Friday was going to be Kushner's third visit to Kalamazoo. Sadly, Kushner's reading was canceled due to snow in New York. Kushner's reading has now been scheduled for Thursday, February 20th.

Kushner was chosen to be the 2009 Summer Common Reading author at Kalamazoo College. The year before, her debut novel "Telex From Cuba" was named to the New York Times bestseller list and was nominated as a finalist for the National Book Award. She returned in 2013 to give the commencement address and also received an honorary Ph.D from Kalamazoo College. 

By the end of the year, her second book "The Flamethrowers," would achieve another dose of fame. It also a finalist in the 2013 National Book Awards, making Kushner the only author in the history of the competition to have consecutive recognition starting with her debut novel.

The second novel follows the life of Reno, a young twenty-something whose fascination with art and the need for speed sends her down a visually pleasing road of love, culture, and travel.

On writing her first novel, "Telex From Cuba," and later her second, "The Flamethrowers." 

"With the second book I knew I had it in me to write a novel. I knew that I would write the novel and that I would complete it," says Kushner.

"With the first book it's much more navigating the open sea, and you don't know when or if. With the second book I had a much deeper confidence and I knew how to force the thing into existence with patience and persistence."

On shunning extracurriculars to concentrate on her work:

"The reason I said I don't like having hobbies is that I just don't have time for that. The novel - it requires everything you have and I love that about it. It requires a kind of total dedication, and that dedication to me has a very clean logic," Kusher says.

"There's always a question of how to live, what to do with your time, how to navigate your own choices. When I'm working on my novel, I never doubt that I'm doing the right thing."

On (technically) being Dr. Kushner:

"I only use the "Call Me Doctor" joke at home with my husband because he has a Ph.D in comparative literature, which took him 11 years to get. But I got mine in an afternoon and so I like to sort of chide him by pointing that out," she says.

"But I was reading recently some stuff about Nina Simone, and she had an honorary doctorate...and she insisted that people addressed her as Dr. Simone after she got the doctorate, and I find that kind of touching."