Ali Sethi was a Nation intern in 2006. His critically acclaimed first novel, The Wish Maker, was published by Riverhead in 2009. In this interview Fall 2010 Nation intern Hayes Clark asks Ali about his work and his time living in New York while interning for The Nation.
1. Who did you intern for while at The Nation? Who made a lasting impression?
I interned for Adam Shatz. He was great. I liked listening to everyone in the conference room. I wish I had talked less and listened more while I was at The Nation; it would have made me smarter.
2. How did you get from being an intern to where you are?
Where I am right now is back in Lahore! So the internship had not a lot to do with my going home again. In getting me to write, however, the internship was important because it allowed me to take writing seriously.
3. Your parents are both award-winning journalists and co-founders of the Friday Times, Pakistan’s first independent English language newsweekly — but you chose to write fiction. Why?
I thought the story I had to tell was better suited to fiction. Some stories work better in non-fiction, of course, and I'm trying my hand at that.
4. What's the last novel you read?
I just read Oliver Twist. I wanted to see how Dickens deals with the London birthed by the Industrial Revolution. It's quite remarkable, what he does: taking us into the houses of the rich and throwing us very soon after that into the streets.
5. If you could hang out for a weekend with any fictional character, who would it be?
I'd like to hang out with Umrao Jaan Ada, the melancholy courtesan protagonist of Mirza Ruswa's late 19th century Urdu novel of the same name.
6. Growing up in Pakistan you say you watched a lot of American television shows. Favorites?
I loved The Wonder Years and The X Files.
7. What advice would you give to recent intern alumni, current interns, or future interns?
Please try your hand at old-fashioned reportage. It forces you to confront facts and organize them in a compelling way. And it trains you like this to make sense of the world, which is what all writing is ultimately about.