The ProsenPeople

Asaf Schurr on Writing a Rooster

Monday, May 06, 2013 | Permalink
We prompted this year's Sami Rohr Prize awardees to write about "how they came to write their book." Over the next several weeks, we'll share their responses. Today, Asaf Schurr discusses how he came to write his novel Motti.

So: there's this story of that emperor who wanted a picture of a rooster, and of the master artist he hired to paint it. And of how that master just spent a whole year in the court, rejoicing and dining and taking long walks and whatever it is you do in courts (at least when you're the emperor's guest and not part of the help). Eventu­ally the emperor got sick and tired of it all, which is completely understandable, and walked straight up to the artist's quarters (one might guess the whole court was terrified by his frightful, angry stride), knocked on the door and demanded, "Where's my rooster, damn it!"

At which the artist just nodded, grabbed a quilt and a piece of paper that lay nearby, and in one fell swoop drew the most wonderful rooster anyone had ever seen (the most wonderful painting of a rooster, at least. For it was a kingdom known for its attractive roosters). And the emperor was understandably surprised, and he said, "What the hell? This only took like three seconds! What were you doing here for a whole year?!"

The artist went over to the inner room's door, and he opened it, and inside were hun­dreds and hundreds of paintings of hundreds and hundreds of roosters.

And that's how I wanted to write this book. Aiming at this one clean stroke. Or rather, aiming at becoming that specific person who could paint that specific rooster. Writing a book that you can love the same way you love a person (as my editor, Oded Wolkstein, said. What he meant was, loving the defects just as much. Loving it like one loves one's child, especially in these moments when you catch a glimpse of these parts of yourself you're ashamed of or impatient with, but seen in him or her are both unbearable and endearing).

So I wanted to paint a rooster that's beautiful and damaged, partial but all there. I wanted to make an object. Complete and distinct, almost spatial in nature, like a physical work of art (and probably just as pretentious).

But I can't paint worth a damn. So I wrote me a rooster feather by feather, and kept at it until it spread its wings. Naturally, it can't actually fly. It can't even lay an egg. All it does is wake you up at odd hours. But that's literature for you.

Asaf Schurr was born in Jerusalem in 1976 and has a BA in philosophy and theater from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At present he is a translator and writes literary reviews for the Hebrew press. Schurr has received the Bernstein Prize (2007), the Minister of Culture Prize (2007) for Amram, and the Prime Minister's Prize for Motti (2008).

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist...Asaf Schurr

Monday, April 08, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Over the past month, we've introduced you to to Stuart Nadler, Shani Boianjiu, Ben Lerner, and Francesca Segal. Today we introduce you to Sami Rohr Prize finalist Asaf Schurr, author of the metafictional novel Motti, which was translated into English by Todd Hasak-Lowy. Haaretz wrote of Motti: "Those who don't read Asaf Schurr’s new book are simply losing out." We agree. Below, Asaf writes about writing a book as it needs to be written, the importance of music while he writes, and some of his favorite books:

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

Getting yourself to actually do it. Then, making sure you don't write the same book over and over again. Then, overcoming the urge to take the easiest and fastest way out. Then, wrapping it up and getting your personality back in one piece.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

Books.

Who is your intended audience?

People who can read. And are actually willing. Maybe a better answer would be "People who are willing to make the effort to read kindly and frankly."

Are you working on anything new right now?

Yes.

What are you reading now?

Noga Albalach's The Push (the first book by a young and talented Hebrew author, to the best of my knowledge not yet translated to other languages), Saramago's Cain (despite my ambivalence), Robert Crease's The Great Equations. And I've got a new Hebrew translation of Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge waiting for me.

Top 5 Favorite Books

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I'm not certain there actually was a moment of such an explicit decision. Though publishing a second book must have given me a clue.

What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?

Being adored for the right reasons, by the right people (and for whatever reasons by all the rest). More specifically and perhaps frankly, it's writing a book as it needs to be written, making it take the form it actually needs and being the object it actually aims to be - as opposed to writing something in order just to please myself or others. Being able to do that without being idiosyncratic is definitely a success (also, not starving).

How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

Finding the right music is very important. (For a while it was A Whisper in the Noise. Lately, it's mostly Joanna Newsom.) I'm rather reluctant to talk about the rest, which by itself is probably part of the answer.

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

At the risk of sounding terribly pretentious, I wish to make people better, myself included. Not to educate, but to somehow get us back to something that's linguistically, emotionally and ethically fundamental and important. Staring each other in the true face, so to speak.

Asaf Schurr was born in Jerusalem in 1976 and has a BA in philosophy and theater from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At present he is a translator and writes literary reviews for the Hebrew press. Schurr has received the Bernstein Prize (2007), the Minister of Culture Prize (2007) for Amram, and the Prime Minister's Prize for Motti (2008).