Friday, July 26, 2013

Katherine Hill

Katherine Hill is the author of The Violet Hour, a novel first published by Scribner in July 2013.

Her short fiction has been published by AGNI, Colorado Review, The Common, n+1, Philadelphia Stories, and Word Riot, and has been honored with the Nelligan Prize, the Marguerite McGlinn Prize, and fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including The Believer, Bookforum, The Paris Review Daily, Philadelphia City Paper, Poets & Writers, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Currently an assistant editor at Barrelhouse, she is a former speechwriter at the University of Pennsylvania, and has taught writing at Philadelphia University, Mighty Writers in South Philadelphia, and the PEN Prison Writing Program in New England. She holds a BA from Yale and an MFA from Bennington College.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Hill about what she was reading. Her reply:
As a writer, reading is both a hobby and a job for me, and I’m sort of obsessive about both. I keep an endless and motley list of books I need to read because the writer does something interesting with language or plot or setting, or because the subject matter relates to something I’m writing, or because enough people have mentioned the book to me this week that I just absolutely have to read it right this minute. I’m also constantly trying to fill holes—the books I really should have read already, sometime before I was born.

My current read, Zadie Smith’s NW, satisfies just about every one of those higgledy piggledy categories. (It even uses the phrase “higgledy piggledy,” and gets away with it.) I’ve been a Smith fan since White Teeth. She’s like this great young athlete whose moves are so recklessly controlled that I’m always rooting for her even when she makes an error. Except she’s not exactly a rookie anymore. More like a first-round draft pick and future Hall of Famer finally entering her prime. She’s always been razor-sharp on the compromises of our blended yet stratified social world, but the Caldwell council estate of NW is her best canvas yet. Together with her recent personal essays in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books—on topics like joy and Joni Mitchell that I wouldn’t otherwise have known were so necessary to my life—NW offers a long glimpse of a great moral mind at work. It is poetic and immediate, evocative of place and time and class, and so well-versed in the lyrics of The Kinks and the slang of London streets it might as well have invented them. I would call it brave, except it hardly seems risky to share perceptions as brilliant as this: “This story, once rationed, offered a few times a year, now bursts through every phone call…Time is compressing for the mother, she has a short distance left to go. She means to squeeze the past into a thing small enough to take with her.”

I’d been saving the book for myself since it was published last fall, and reading it now is the very best kind of summer reward. I’m savoring every page.
Visit Katherine Hill's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue