2013 Pulitzer Prize Winning Dramatist, Ayad Akhtar, and 2011 Guggenheim Fellow in Nonfiction, Mary Cappello, discuss the formulation of turning points in the course of a life, the course of a career, and the course of a piece of writing; the spiritual (as distinct from religious) underpinnings of artistic practice; the place where a writing project begins and where it arrives; the literary traditions their work is in conversation with; the interplay of mastery and humility in the work of making art; and the pleasures and challenges involved in imagining audience. They also touch on teacher/student relationships: if, over twenty years ago, Akhtar was Cappello’s student, now she finds herself, his.
This conversation with Mary Cappello and Ayad Akhtar was recorded in the Hoffman Room at the University of Rhode Island’s 2014 Ocean State Summer Writing Conference (OSSWC).
Ayad Akhtar was born in New York City and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is the author of American Dervish, published in over twenty languages worldwide and a 2012 Best Book of the Year at Kirkus Reviews, Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Shelf-Awareness, and O (Oprah) Magazine. He is also a playwright and screenwriter. His stage play Disgraced played at New York’s LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater in 2012, and won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. His latest play, The Who & The What, premiered at La Jolla Playhouse in February 2014, and will be opening in New York at LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater in June 2014. As a screenwriter, he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay for The War Within. He has been the recipient of fellowships from MacDowell and Yaddo, as well as commissions from Lincoln Center Theater and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He is a graduate of Brown and Columbia Universities with degrees in Theater and Film Directing.
Mary Cappello is the author of four books of literary nonfiction, including Called Back (winner of a ForeWord Book of the Year Award, and Independent Publishers Prize), and Awkward: A Detour (a Los Angeles Times Bestseller). Her numerous essays and experimental prose appear in such venues as The Georgia Review, Salmagundi and Cabinet Magazine. A recipient of The Bechtel Prize for Educating the Imagination, the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize, and, a Guggenheim Fellowship, Cappello is a former Fulbright Lecturer at the Gorky Literary Institute (Moscow) and currently Professor of English and creative writing at the University of Rhode Island. Her most recent book, Swallow, emerges from the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum. She is currently writing a book about “mood.”