Doing With Language What Hendrix Did With a Guitar
Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Home at the End of the World, The Hours and Specimen Days, is a master of lyrical, compassionate and powerful prose. Cunningham’s best-known novel, The Hours, is an innovative blend of biography, memoir and fiction.
In a brilliant recent Guardian essay on Virginia Woolf - one of three protagonists in The Hours (played by Nicole Kidman in the movie adaptation) - he writes of his first encounter with the British modernist as a suburban teen. “I read Mrs Dalloway for the first time when I was a sophomore in high school. I was a bit of a slacker, not at all the sort of kid who’d pick up a book like that on my own (it was not, I assure you, part of the curriculum at my slacker-ish school in Los Angeles). I read it in a desperate attempt to impress a girl who was reading it at the time. I hoped, for strictly amorous purposes, to appear more literate than I was.”
The lovelorn Cunningham’s efforts didn’t help him win the affections of the girl, but he describes the act of reading as a conversion experience. He realised that Woolf “was doing with language something like what Jimi Hendrix does with a guitar. By which I meant she walked a line between chaos and order, she riffed, and just when it seemed that a sentence was veering off into randomness, she brought it back and united it with the melody.”
In Australia recently to promote his most recent novel, By Nightfall, Cunningham’s conversation with Malcolm Knox at the Wheeler Centre touched on wide array of topics, including his childhood, his writing process, The Hours, Australian culture, and the AIDS epidemic.
Michael Cunningham appeared in Australia as a guest of the Wheeler Centre and the Sydney Writers' Festival.