Dispatches | July 19, 2010
An Interview with Tom Ireland
Recently, several of our past contributors have had some great news: Seth Fried’s first collection is getting published on Soft Skull Press, Cheryl Strayed is being anthologized in The Pushcart Prize, and Scott Coffel has won the 2010 Norma Farber First Book Award. So, we wondered, what is everyone else up to? In the interest of keeping you updated on the comings and goings of our talented writers, we present the first in a series of short interviews with contributors to The Missouri Review, beginning with Tom Ireland.
Tom Ireland’s essays have appeared five times in The Missouri Review. Three of them, “Fianchetto” (from TMR 21.2), “My Thai Girlfriends” (27.3) and “The Pending Disaster” (30.3) also appear in his new collection, The Man Who Gave His Wife Away (Tres Chicas Books, 2010).
INTERVIEWER: “Famous” is a much more journalistic piece than the other essays you’ve published in TMR (“Our Love Is Like a Cake,” “Fianchetto,” “My Thai Girlfriends,” “The Pending Disaster”). Are you moving away from the more personal style that characterized those earlier works?
IRELAND: “Famous” began as a travel narrative and ended up more like journalism than originally intended. I wanted to write what I and only I could know about the attacks through the accident of being in Mumbai right after they occurred. But it became painfully apparent while rewriting that in order to hang together, the piece had to be more about Ajmal Kasab and less about me. That required research, and leaving things out that didn’t belong. For example, I carried more rancor towards the Mumbai taxi driver who overcharged us one afternoon … than I did towards the terrorists, since I’d been personally victimized by one and not the other. But the taxi man and my righteous anger about getting cheated didn’t belong in the essay I was writing. Journalism might be more appealing to me if it didn’t rely so heavily on accuracy. I admire the creative aspects of journalism at its best, but I don’t think I have the temperament for it.
INTERVIEWER: In “Famous” you mention that although you were in Mumbai shortly after the massacre, you did not learn Ajmal Kasab’s name or begin to follow his story until after you returned home. What kind of research and preparation goes into an essay like “Famous”?
IRELAND: I tried to make it clear in the essay that everything I “knew” about Kasab … I learned from media sources—photos, newspaper articles, and other peoples’ versions of the story on the internet. No respectable journalist works this way. Besides studying up on Indian history and the Indian railway system, I had to sift through the deluge of available online information to find details that interested me or that might lead to a better understanding of who Kasab was and why he did what he did. This brings up issues, not touched on in the essay, about the uses and abuses of information. How much of what you read can you believe, and how much can you repeat?
INTERVIEWER: What are you working on now?
IRELAND: A poem based on a recurring dream in which I’m always about to leave for Moscow but never get as far as boarding the plane. It may be a metaphor for the books I haven’t written. And publicity for my new collection, The Man Who Gave His Wife Away (Tres Chicas Books). The book was almost twenty years in the making, all told. Two of the pieces in it had been book-length manuscripts. As unappetizing as self-promotion is, I need to do some flag waving on its behalf.
You can purchase Tom Ireland’s collection The Man Who Gave His Wife Away from his website, from Tres Chicas Books or in Tom’s neighborhood at Collected Works in Santa Fe, NM. You can read his most recent TMR essay, “Famous,” here on the TMR website.
Olivia Wolfgang-Smith is a summer intern at The Missouri Review.
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