Maria Kuznetsova

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How does your cultural identity influence your writing?

Being an immigrant from Ukraine definitely was the reason I got into writing – I wanted to write about this strange place where I found myself, where I wasn’t quite Russian or American. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become interested in how much of my identity I can pass down to my daughter.


Did you have a favorite author growing up? Did they shape the way you write today?

Kurt Vonnegut. My parents had all of his books in the house and I read them all multiple times. I think that’s where I got some of my weird/silly sensibilities.


What were some influences you drew upon to write The Passport?

Some of the less realist writers influenced me to write that story – though of course there’s there are the few paragraphs of Anna Karenina from the perspective of a dog. Also Isaac Singer, Petrushevskaya, Marquez, Bulgakov, Aimee Bender, and anyone who dabbles in the weird.


The Passport seems to discuss family and upbringing. Being a mother, how do you

think storytelling affects one’s childhood? Do you read stories to your children?

I think hearing stories and reading stories can certainly affect your childhood – it can help you feel more curious and less alone. I read books to my 2-year-old daughter every night.


Oksana, Behave! is a fascinating novel and an engaging read, can you briefly describe what you hoped to communicate when writing it? What did you hope to achieve by writing this novel?

Thanks for the kind words! I wasn’t really hoping to achieve or communicate anything specific. I just wanted to tell the story of the kind of upbringing I had – kind of a double searching for home, first from immigrating, and then from moving around a lot. Many immigrant stories are about transitioning from home to a new home, but mine was a bit different.


Are you a writer who enjoys writing in bursts (i.e. writing every couple of days when inspiration strikes), or do you write a little bit every day?

I try to write a bit every morning. In grad school, I had a pretty good routine of writing almost every day between breakfast and lunch. Now I try to write at least an hour or two every morning when I can.


Are there definite guidelines on what makes a ‘good’ story? In your opinion, what makes a story compelling?

No definite guidelines for sure. I look for a compelling voice, and a sense of plot/forward momentum, right from the beginning. But I also am intrigued by stories that I have never heard before, whether that means ones that describe a completely new situation, or ones that take a familiar topic and shed new light on it.


Do you have any advice for young writers looking to get into prose-writing?

Read everything you can get your hands on, have patience, and find a good routine.


What is one important piece of advice for teen writers hoping to become authors?

Be patient. It will take a long time, and that’s okay. And find some writer friends who are good readers of your work.


If you could only read one author for the rest of your life, who would it be and why?

I guess it goes back to Vonnegut! He’s incredibly entertaining, and many of his social critiques resound more than ever today.