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The Wheeler Centre

Alexander Chee: How To Write An Autobiographical Novel  /  Biography & memoir

Leah Jing McIntosh and Alexander Chee at the Athenaeum Theatre — Photo: Sophie Quick

‘Novels are accidents at their start,’ Alexander Chee has written. What causes these productive accidents? Who do they happen to? And what do novels become next?

Chee, the author of two masterful, award-winning novels – and a distinguished teacher, essayist and critic – has given a lot of thought to these questions. His acclaimed, reflexive autobiographical first novel, Edinburgh, was about a Korean-American boy from Maine. His second book, The Queen of the Night, was a radical departure – about a 19th-century opera singer in France.

His third book, How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, is a work of memoir – a collection of engrossing essays about Chee’s own life and about the mysterious alchemy behind full-length works of fiction. These essays describe episodes from the author’s own life, from the traumatic childhood events that fed directly into the writing of Edinburgh, to his AIDS activism in the nineties and his time at Iowa Writers’ Workshop. It’s a profound, enigmatic and charming book; a highly distinctive reflection on memory, identity and creativity.

A revered ‘writer’s writer’, a tireless champion of other authors, and a blazing talent in his own right, Chee talks writing and life at the Athenaeum Theatre with Leah Jing McIntosh as part of our Mayhem series.

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