“You just spent a year in mentorship with the German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger and a year later you won the Pulitzer. That must have been some amazing mentorship!”
Laughter erupted from the crowd gathered to hear New York radio host Leonard Lopate interview the writers Tracy K. Smith and AS Byatt at The powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn last month.
With this opening line, Lopate set the tone for an entertaining evening with Smith, 2010 literature protégée and indeed, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and Byatt, the renowned Booker Award-winning writer and an advisor to the Rolex Arts Initiative.
© Rolex / Bart Michiels
Byatt and Smith met several years ago through the Rolex programme and have kept in touch. Smith invited Byatt to read on February 13 at Princeton University, where Smith teaches creative writing, and two days later the authors appeared together in Brooklyn.
In between reading from their work, the writers talked with Lopate about topics ranging from their artistic influences, to writing across cultures and languages, to the power of mentors.
“He asked different questions about my work,” Smith said of Enzensberger. “He made me realize that I don’t just have to be writing for an American audience and that some of the assumptions I’d made in my work are things that I began to question a little bit… Our generational and background experience are so different, there was a lot to learn.”
Before the powerHouse event began, Byatt commented on the importance of the Rolex Arts Initiative to bolster young artists and underscored the value of keeping in contact with them after their mentorship ends. “Most writers are very lonely,” she said. “Professional connections at a high level are unusual.”