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The Read of the Town: Teddy Wayne on race, New York City and having his novel, Kapitoil, chosen as this year's Novel Idea book 

Written by New York native Teddy Wayne, Kapitoil, is this year's Deschutes Public Library Novel Idea community read.

click to enlarge culture_teddy-wayne-color.jpg

Written by New York native Teddy Wayne, Kapitoil, is this year's Deschutes Public Library Novel Idea community read. The acclaimed book chronicles the pre-9/11 life of Karim Issar, a computer programmer from Qatar who attempts to reconcile his Muslim faith with the trappings of American culture as he begins a wildly profitable career predicting oil futures.

There is something inherently compelling in Wayne's work, a tone that is never sentimental, but because his novel is told through an immigrant's eyes, this causes readers to become attached to Karim's enchanting way of using the English language with both humorous and heartbreaking effects.

Wayne's debut has garnered rave reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Booklist and a glowing endorsement by Jonathan Franzen. All quite a feat for a young writer, but perhaps the bigger feat is retaining a sense of humor and grace.

"I'm very honored and flattered. The last time I was officially a novel idea was during my conception," says Wayne when asked how it felt being chosen as this year's Novel Idea selected author.

With masterful use of craft and technique, it is hard to believe that this is a debut novel but, as Tina Davis, owner of Camalli Book Co. and member of the Novel Idea selection committee says, "I think that is part of what appealed to the Novel Idea selection committee: here's an author with a fresh voice who the community can discover for the first time together."

Based on a program that originated in 1999 at the Seattle Public Library, the Novel Idea is a program that encourages everyone in a community to read the same book at the same time.

"Part of what makes A Novel Idea so rich is the variety of programming that the library builds around the book. It creates a vibrant discussion that is viewed through a variety of lenses, from lectures and presentations to cooking demonstration," says Davis.

She also feels that Kapitoil is a novel with the potential to inspire heated discussion.

"[Kapitoil] touches on issues related to immigration, economic morality, and what it is to be Muslim in America. It opens up multiple avenues for conversation," says Davis.

But how would Wayne feel his book would be received in Central Oregon, an area not known for its cultural diversity?

"I don't think proximal diversity has much influence over someone's reception of the book. Even if you never leave your basement, we live in a globalized, multicultural world now in which you're more likely to see Libya on the news than the neighboring town," says Wayne.

Wayne is currently a finalist for the 2011 Young Lion's Award, a $10,000 prize conceived in part by actor/author Ethan Hawke to "honor works of young authors (35 and younger) carving deep first impressions in the literary world." As an author, I understand what this award can mean to Wayne's career, about which he is kind enough to share insights during his free April 28th talk at C.O.C.C. titled "Living and Writing in New York."

"I will do my best not to discourage [aspiring authors] too much about the solitary, penniless state of living and writing in New York," jokes Wayne.

Wayne's East Coast perspective is part of what drew me to talk with him about the state of publishing, the rise of the e-book, and the future of independent bookstores.

"E-books are certainly the way business is trending. Whether this portends to the total distinction of both independent and chain bookstores, I can't say, but it certainly isn't helping," says Wayne. "Many books developed followings because independent bookstores championed them. If the only purveyors are and a couple of other monoliths, it reduces the odds of smaller books breaking out."

My interaction with Wayne was brief, but I left our conversation with the feeling that this is an author who will be around for many wonderful books to come, and also a person who genuinely desires to connect with his readers, and with this community, which he somehow knows has been experiencing longer than usual winter weather.

"My main objective with writing is to make a reader think, laugh, and be moved, ideally all at once," says Wayne. "Failing that, I hope the pages serve as effective kindling, which cuts heating bills, enabling the book to serve as a true meta-critique of the oil community."

Teddy Wayne in Central Oregon

The Thursday and Friday appearances by Teddy Wayne, at COCC's Hitchcock Auditorium and the Tower Theatre, respectively, are sold out.

Wayne will appear at the Redmond Public Library 1 p.m., Sat, April 30. No tickets are needed for the free appearance.


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