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A Week in Culture: Amélie Nothomb, Writer

May 4, 2011 | by

Photograph by Catherine Cabrol.

DAY ONE

Backstage at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers, I meet about a dozen prestigious writers, among them Salman Rushdie and Hanif Kureishi. They seem to have known each other for years, chatting and laughing together. I am so awed that my deep-sea-snail nature gains the upper hand and I hide in the corner with my mouth clamped shut. The proximity of admirable men and women has always had this effect on me: what can I say to them beyond a very sincere “I admire you,” of which they have no need? And so I crawl into my shell and stay quiet. At 7:30, we take our seats for the Opening Night of the PEN World Voices Festival. Each writer steps up to the podium to read a selection from his or her work in front of a full house. I am ninth on the list, which leaves me ample time to panic. The eight writers who precede me are remarkable and read their unforgettable selections with such talent. I am feeling worse and worse by the minute. Then it is time for me to take the stage. I feel like I’m representing Belgium in the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where my country didn’t bring home a single medal. I chose a very short text because I knew that I would read without stopping to breathe, thus very badly. While reading it, though, it still seems too long, and I swallow the majority of my words. It is a test. When it’s finished, I run to hide myself away. Next, we all go to celebrate. I drink lots of wine to forget the reading, and, suddenly, I feel fine, and very happy to be in New York.

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