The Writing University hosts the 5Q Interview series with authors from the University of Iowa Press. We sit down with UI Press authors to ask about their work, their process, their reading lists and events. Today we are speaking with Christine Evans, author of Nadia.
Christine Evans writes internationally produced plays, opera libretti, and fiction. Her debut novel, Nadia, “shockingly original, stunningly written…fierce, funny and tragic” (Caroline Leavitt), “often brutal, sometimes lovely and always humane” (Foreword starred review) is published in Fall, 2023 (U Iowa Press.) Her theater and opera work has been staged at the Sydney Opera House, the American Repertory Theater, HERE (New York) and many other venues, and her plays are published by Samuel French. She is a multiple MacDowell Fellow, VCCA Fellow, a Howard Foundation Fellow and recipient of DC Council on the Arts & Humanities Fellowships. Originally from Australia, she is a Professor of Performing Arts at Georgetown University, and lives in Washington, DC. www.christineevanswriter.com
1. Can you tell us a little bit about your new book Nadia?
Nadia just wants to fit into her boring London temp job—until one day, a man she suspects is a sniper from the war she fled slips into the desk next to hers. Set in the aftermath of the 1990s Balkan wars, the novel moves between the competing perspectives of two survivors who’ve escaped to London, only to discover the war has followed them there. As Nadia’s volatile connection with Iggy unravels, Nadia is forced to face the ethically shaky way she escaped the war, the loss of her beloved girlfriend in the process, and her own disavowed queer sexuality. In the aftermath of a war that broke apart a European country and foreshadowed today’s rising ethno-nationalism, Nadia tracks the complex ways in which past political violence can shadow and disrupt the present.
2. What was the inspiration for this work?
Nadia herself arrived while I was working on a play of mine in New York, You Are Dead. You Are Here., that had virtual-reality ghosts in it. Nadia was a minor character --a temp secretary haunting an office. She really didn’t have enough to do in the play, but still, this secretive, ghostly temp worker fascinated me. She came from Temp Angels (“Short Term Solutions When You Need Them Most!”) I started wondering why she might need “short-term solutions” of her own, and why she was hiding out in an office. So, I started noodling around, and the story unfolded in her voice from there. I had no idea where she was from at that point, nor that it would become a novel—I was mostly a playwright at that point.
The background to the story came later—it leaked in as I wrote, from my own memories of former Yugoslavia. I first visited the region as a traveling musician studying Macedonian and Romany folk music, when Macedonia was still part of Yugoslavia; then later, after the wars, as a long-term friend and colleague of Dah Theatre, a Belgrade-based company who opposed war from within Serbia. Maybe everyone has their defining war: for me, it was this one. After all, I knew people in it. And it was one of the first media-era conflicts to play out in real-time on TV. We are more inured to this war-porn now. Having said that, Nadia is much more about its two main characters, and what they carry in the aftermath of the wars, than the specifics of the conflict they fled.
3. Do you have any plans for readings or events for this book, either in person or virtual?
I do! I live in Washington, DC, and my book launch is at People’s Book on Friday, September 22nd, in conversation with Sarah Cypher.
Other events: October 6th, The Ivy, Baltimore, with Marion Winik
October 28th, at the Writers’ Center in Bethesda, MD, with Donna Hemans and Johannes Lichtman
4. What are you reading right now? Any books from other university or independent presses?
Happily: A Personal History--with Fairy-tales by Sabrina Orah Mark (Penguin Random House)
Ore Choir: The Lava on Iceland, by Katy Didden (Tupelo Press).
I’m also reading about creepy and fascinating drone technology modeled on birds (taxidermy drones, anyone?), and the evolution of plastic-eating bacteria in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as research for my next book.
5. What is your writing routine? Do you have a daily routine?
I’m happiest when I’m writing every day, even for short bursts—or perhaps “less fretful” is a better way to put it--but there are times when I just have to plough through the piles of other stuff before me. I do write in a journal with a pot of tea every morning, no matter what, and that becomes a place-holder for thoughts, images, notes I can return to. The important thing is to keep a project alive in my mind, even in small bursts. Writing every day (when I’m in it) avoids the awfulness of having to pick up a cold trail. And it reminds me that writing is a technology of thinking: that ideas come from writing, not the other way around.
Thank you Christine!