A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed
Emily Rapp Black

A Conversation with Emily Rapp Black, Author of Newly Released Book “Sanctuary”

July 23, 2021
Sanctuary by Emily Rapp Black
Sanctuary by Emily Rapp Black

I had the opportunity to interview Emily Rapp Black, the author of Sanctuary. Here are some highlights.

Do you write for others or for yourself only?

I believe writing is an act of service, and as such, should change, challenge, provoke and comfort. More and more, I feel less concerned with pleasing readers in general, and more interested in making readers think – about their own lives, about how the world works, about what they’ve learned about themselves or others or relationships that needs to be re-examined and perhaps even cast aside or re-absorbed in favor of a new way of thinking. I think writers should also engage with the “why” they are writing; yes, there is ego in every writing, because to dare to create is to engage with one’s ego in a very direct way, but in the end, it’s about what your work does in the world — the path it takes, the people it touches and serves. Much of that is entirely out of your control, but I like the mystery contained within that. 

Are you affected by other people’s appraisal of your work? Have you ever been hurt by them?

I used to be, and now I care less than I did. I would say I don’t care at all, but that would be a lie. When I was first starting out, it was a way of seeking affirmation — which is never a good plan, because of course, external affirmation is never sufficient. You get one cookie, you want another one! But if you write something you believe is beautiful and true, then what other people think matters less.

Do you feel that you and the characters in your book have been well understood by your readers?

I don’t know if being understood is the goal, particularly in nonfiction, at least in the sense that you know a friend or a loved one. I do think what a nonfiction writer must do is shape a lens that is uniquely theirs through which readers can experience the world. In that sense, no observation is neutral, and each moment is singular and only. I want readers to bring all of their complications and desires and weirdness to the work. I want it to be a dialogue, and sometimes dialogue can be tense. That’s okay with me — it’s a part of the exchange of ideas across time and history. 

What books are currently on your book stand?

War and Peace by Tolstoy, Blow Your House Down by Gina Frangello, a collection of Anna Ahkmatova poems, Anne Carson — everything by Anne Carson.

What do you plan to read next?

The Copenhagen Trillogy 

What is next for you?

A craft book/essay collection and a novel. Here’s hoping!  

Book Review: 'Sanctuary,' by Emily Rapp Black - The New York Times

About the Author

(from Gotham Writers)

Emily Rapp Black is the author of the memoirs Sanctuary (Random House), The Still Point of the Turning World (Penguin), and Poster Child(Bloomsbury), and she collaborated on the memoir I Should Have Honor by Khalida Brohl (Random House). Her work has appeared in The New York TimesThe Los Angeles Times, the Boston GlobeSalonVOGUEO the Oprah Magazine, among other places. A former Fulbright scholar, she is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and a 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship. She is Associate Professor in the University of California-Riverside Creative Writing Program and at the UCR School of Medicine. She holds a BA from Saint Olaf College, an MTS from Harvard University, and an MFA in Fiction and Poetry from the University of Texas.

Get her book, Sanctuary, on Amazon!

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