Hanya Yanagihara discusses inspiration for novel A Little Life

The Library Foundation of Los Angeles hosted novelist Hanya Yanagihara in conversation with Matthew Specktor on Tuesday. The discussion, which was held in the Mark Taper Auditorium at the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library, revolved around Yanagihara’s latest novel A Little Life, which received mass acclaim and unexpected popularity upon its release.

Hailed as “a writer to marvel at” by The New York Times Book Review, Yanagihara appears through Library Foundation of Los Angeles’ ALOUD program, a “celebrated literary series of conversations, readings and performances,” according to its website. Past events have featured Salman Rushdie, Judy Bloom, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood, among others. Tuesday’s discussion was a sold-out event, as reported on the event’s website.

Prior to the release of A Little Life in early 2015, Yanagihara was a relatively unknown writer. Her debut novel, The People in the Trees, was released in early 2013, and though the work received positive reviews from critics, her work remained under-the-radar. Following the release of A Little Life, the novel soon gained heavy momentum, becoming a sleeper hit and establishing Yanagihara’s credibility as one of the foremost novelists of this generation. A paperback version of A Little Life was released last month.

Set in New York City, A Little Life follows the lives of four college friends post-graduation, examining their evolving relationships over many decades. Despite the highly sensitive material present throughout the novel and the hefty length of the book itself (topping at just more than 700 pages), the novel has not only received praise from critics but also developed a huge fan base. In the discussion, Yanagihara stated her editor’s apprehension to publish a book of its length with such challenging content.

“One of the arguments I had with my editor was this idea of ‘What is too much for the reader to bear?’” Yanagihara said. She went on to discuss that what draws readers to these themes are the deeply personal ways in which they’re able to process these subjects.

“There are points in this book in which the characters know more than the reader, and there are points where the readers know more than the characters themselves,” Yanagihara said.

Yanagihara also discussed the artistic inspiration that impacted this book. The novel features many references to classical music, which she stated was a nod to her father, who loved opera and German lieder.

“The book is arranged and structured like a symphony,” Yanagihara continued. “The little themes that come up … I really want it to feel like a little bit of melody that loops in again and again.”

Yanagihara isn’t the only high profile novelist featured this year. The ALOUD program is renowned for hosting some of the most influential and well-respected authors in the world. Earlier this month, LFLA announced its spring season for ALOUD. The spring season will open on March 10 with an evening honoring science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler. In addition, future events will include Sebastião Salgado, Helen Macdonald, Vivian Gornick, as well as author and professor at USC Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Most ALOUD events are free to the public, with priority reservations available to members of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. More information regarding ALOUD’s spring season can be found online.