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We who are about to breed: Alex Kudera.

September 27, 2011 \am\30 8:00 am

[In which WWAATD asks writers and other artist types about life as breeders/parents/kid-keepers.]

Name: Alex Kudera.

1.What are your kids’ names, ages?

My daughter Yiyi (pronounced like the “e.e.” of “e.e. cummings,”) is my only child, and she just turned 3 at the end of July. In her mother’s native tongue, Mandarin, her name can mean “one and one” or “a one and a two.” There is a film from Taiwan called Yiyi, and we did see this great family drama at some point before the birth of our child, so it is possible we are just another tacky couple who named their kid after a movie.

2. How do you balance your time between parenting and writing?

We use full-time daycare, but both my wife and I are college instructors, most often teaching four or even five classes each, so it is at times difficult and stressful. Although I also teach during the summer, it is the 9 months of the school year where writing time seems to get crushed by the weight of parenting and teaching. We very rarely use a babysitter, but our daughter will play independently sometimes—she likes puzzles, books, Play-Doh, and more. I can say that before parenthood, I was never the kind of writer who could get anything done with anyone else in the room, and now at least upon occasion, I can scribble in a notebook while my daughter is playing nearby or pushing a stack of books at me. It’s an imbalanced life that includes occasional spurts of literature.

3. What is the best piece of advice about being a parent and a writer?

Before you have a kid, try to get rich or a tenure-track teaching job with a reduced course load. Or maybe you could marry a breadwinner who also likes quiet time. That’s the only way you’ll have a chance at becoming a full-time writer, someone who can write for six to ten hours a day or more. Many great writers, and some are my favorites, more or less ditched their kids, and some of them did this more than once. So if you want the fulfillment of being more than just a biological parent (and I can understand why many people do not want this amazing experience), don’t expect literary perfection or greatness or even output that doesn’t suck ninety-five percent of the time. But be grateful for what you got.

4. How has your writing changed since becoming a parent?

I was lucky enough to write a full draft of Fight for Your Long Day, well before I became a father, and actually, for me, my wife had to go to China for an emergency for three weeks, and that’s when I was able to compose most of the final edits. So somehow single-parenting seemed to help me concentrate, but our daughter was younger then and not yet the big talker she has become. She was willing to go to her crib for sleep each evening. By herself. Ah, those were the days. If I didn’t have a full draft before she was born, I suspect I’d still be an unpublished novelist.

And yet, I think knowing a baby was on the way created and incredible sense of urgency and drove me to become a published novelist. I’d had a few great streaks of writing before but almost nothing to show for it as far as publication goes. I remember when I first found out that I could expect to become a father, I was reading Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives slowly, as if it might be the last long novel I’d ever read. And then, that spring, I began writing more conscientiously, mainly on a story but also the draft of Fight for Your Long Day which had burst out one summer five years previously. I had some insane idea that I could possibly supplement my lecturer’s pay with meaningful royalties, or at least that this might be my last chance to write anything at all.

As for the writing itself, sometimes I’m convinced my best work was composed during the three or four years after undergrad, before teaching overloads sapped my intellectual strength, and other times, I can see clearly I’m doing my best work in the present, and then later, I realize that nothing at all has changed and I need to push out 500 pages to find 100 decent ones. Which I suppose is better than the 95 percent will suck that I alluded to above.

5. Tell us something we don’t know about you and being a writer-slash-parent.

I’m learning on the job.


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