Sharing Wisdom: Ifland, Dachy, and Wertheim on Their Journeys to Becoming the Writers They are Today

Les Figues authors, Alta Ifland, Vincent Dachy, and Christine Wertheim, took time out to share with me how they became writers, starting from the question of whether they were student writers.

Christine Wertheim started the conversation by saying that she did not attend an MFA program, but was actually got her degress in semiotics and literature. She shared that she used to be a painter. She explained that her journey in writing started from a thinking tool that she was using for a research project regarding the nature of language. Someone who looked at her work with this tool suggested that it would be poetry–something that Wertheim never considered. Later, someone suggested that she should perform this poetry; which was a journey in itself for her to appropriate how to perform such poetry. Now she teaches in the MFA program at CalArts (she’s actually the chair of the program!). Considering her journey, she noted that many people in the 60s and 70s who were in the hard sciences were writing as a form of art; and she thinks that, again, many nonartists are starting to become writers now. She became a writer through being an academic. (Wertheim was Australian born, and has lived most of her life in England.)

Alta Ifland noted that all three of these authors, herself included, are foreign to the States, and thus do not have the “typical American experience” as a writer. Given that, she considers her style atypical in itself. She explained that she is from Romania, and they were no MFA programs there except one which was for journalism; which actually meant that those writers would be writing propoganda for the then-Communist party. People made fun of the program. As for her own journey, she says that she has known that she was a writer since she was 5 years old. Her parents bought her a puppet theatre and she began writing skits for it. From then on, her parents told he that she would be a writer. Later, a teacher would tell her that she will be a writer as well. She noted that she read a lot growing up. After Communism fell in Romania, Ifland left the country for the States. She got her PhD in French, and became quite fluid in the language. When she moved to the states, she says, she felt like she “didn’t have a language anymore”, for left Romania as a kind of exile. Writing in English was an interesting challenge for her, but she didn’t want to write in Romanian. She explains that the first book she wrote for LesFigues press was bilingual in French and English, which she translated herself. As Ifland and Vincent Dachy were reflecting on how many great foreign writers actually write in their native language, Ifland shared a side note: “Great writers do not just become great overnight. It takes many years to become great.” So be patient, and keep cultivating and networking.

Vincent Dachy explained that he is Belgium and French speaking, but he lives in London. He shared that he was no background in literature. He actually studied Lacanian psychoanalysis (search: Jaques Lacan). During his practice, he explains, “I was writing things to clear my mind.” While he was in London, his patients would teach him how to speak English, but we would wonder, “…but how do I write [in English]?” He discovered that he like the challenge of writing in English. He explained that he though he is fluent, English is still a foreign language to him. “I like the foreign intitmateness,” Dachy shares. “I think it’s pretty playful to me.” He says that he likes how it is familiar yet distant. Assessing himself as a writer, he says, “I write to forget.”

Thank you Ms. Christine, Ms. Alta, and Mr. Vincent for sharing with me.–Zowie