Novelist Bryan Washington on Writing—and Snacking—During the Pandemic

BW: I didn’t really set out to turn stereotypes on their head because I feel like if you’re writing life as it’s actually lived, it’s not one in which you’re working stereotypes and archetypes. Houston is a really deeply diverse city. So it is not shocking or strange to have a narrative where you have Black folks, and you have Asian American folks, Latinx folks, and everyone is in congress in the same narrative. There’s a way in which publishing in this country can silo the diverse books and the anti-racist books into being the only ones with characters from marginalized communities. But that’s just not true to life at all. So it was just about trying to write a story I’d want to read, featuring the kinds of stories I’ve been privy to and my friends have been privy to. And those are the kinds of stories, featuring many different kinds of people from many different places, I’m most interested in.

DD: So you wrote Lot, a collection of short stories, before Memorial and you got a lot of acclaim and attention for that. President Obama even named it as one of his favorite books of 2019. So what does that do to a writer’s ego? And how do you, you know, stay focused on writing and going on to the next book without getting overwhelmed by the success?

BW: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know that I think of it in terms of ego because I’m surprised any time someone reads whatever the f*#% I’m trying to do, like, that’s always really shocking to me. It was certainly really lovely to hear that he read it, and to see it on that scale, but it’s just as lovely when my friends say that they’ve taken time with the book, or when my students say it, or when my neighbors or folks out in the world say that they’ve taken time with it.

DD: Given the pandemic and lockdown I think we’re all hoping that, you know, restaurants will be able to survive despite the possible next wave of infections. What’s your feeling about the restaurants in Houston?

BW: It’s hard to say a general feeling. But it’s been really heartening to see the ways the community has come together to support those restaurants, whether it’s through attending pop-ups or fundraisers or buying ready-to-eat packaged meals.

DD: Do you have a favorite restaurant there?

BW: I don’t know if I have a favorite. But I have a few I’ve been to fairly recently. I guess I’ll say Korean Noodle House, La Guadalupana, and My Baguettes are the places I’ve been going to quite often.

DD: What kind of tools would we see in your kitchen? My must-haves include a zester. I take a zester with me if I go to someone’s apartment; I sneak a zester in my pocket.

BW: I mean, I feel like a zester is something that is now going to be essential. For me a mandoline is really essential because my knife skills are getting better, but they’re not quite there and a mandoline just makes life so much easier. And also a donabe. If you’re making shabu-shabu or hot pot, if you’re making a really lovely bowl of rice, it’s just super useful.

DD: Did you formally study Japanese food? Did you read cookbooks? Or is it just something that came from one thing leading to another? What would you say is your favorite dish from Osaka?

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