The Day I Met One of My Heroes

Happy Easter everybody!

Thursday was an incredibly exciting day, because I finally got to meet one of my all-time favorite authors, Kazuo Ishiguro! You’ve already heard me gush about his writing, so I just wanted to share with you how the book signing went!

After reading the Buzzfeed article, “What It’s Like to Meet Your Favorite Author,” in which the author attended an Ishiguro signing in New York City, I was anxious about dealing with insanely long lines. The signing was set for 7:30pm, so I left right after work at 5:00 to give myself plenty of time to beat rush-hour traffic.

After driving for an hour to the Center of Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, CA, I quickly realized that my fears were exaggerated. I was literally the first person to arrive, waiting thirty minutes before the building even opened. I decided to pass the time by re-reading the ending of Never Let Me Go, before heading inside.

To describe the venue, let me start by giving some background. Atherton, CA, is the most expensive zip code in the entire nation. Right next to the Facebook headquarters, many homes in this city are valued at over $10 million dollars and are often owned by extremely wealthy Chinese investors.

Thus, in case any of you were wondering why the heck this book signing was held at a high school, this was no ordinary performing arts center. It looked like an opera hall; I could practically see the excess of donor money built into its walls.

Front of the center (Image via Archinect)

View of the stage (Image via Bay Area Spaces)

But enough about this fancy-schmancy building! Kazuo Ishiguro came out around 8:00, accompanied by author Tom Barbash. There were quite a few technical difficulties with the microphones, but both men were easygoing trying to make sure everyone in the audience could hear them.

The conversation began with a reading by Ishiguro, followed by Barbash asking him questions, and then ended with reading off questions from the audience’s note cards. My only complaint was that it seemed that Barbash did not do enough research, frequently citing incorrect information from past interviews of Ishiguro’s or taking his quotes out of context. As a former journalist, I cringed every time Ishiguro had to correct him, though he always did so with grace.

It’s nerve-wracking to be sitting in front of someone you admire so much, because there’s always the chance that person is going to be a major jerk. This was certainly not the case. Ishiguro was very humble, making self-deprecating jokes and assuring the audience that we need not clap after he read the first few pages of his latest novel, The Buried Giant. I’m sure it can be monotonous answering the same questions over and over again on a book tour, but Ishiguro was calm and collected, his British accent giving him a sense of soft-spoken sophistication.

Kazuo Ishiguro (left) and Tom Barbash (right)

Kazuo Ishiguro (left) and Tom Barbash (right)

Among the many topics Ishiguro covered were his relocation from Japan to England at five years old, his early life as a songwriter hitchhiking up and down California with his guitar, and his lucky break with fiction-writing. He’s well aware that his success is not typical and disapproves of the saturation of creative writing programs as a means of exploiting young writers’ hopes and dreams.

I was also intrigued by his observation that from the outside looking in, it appears that Ishiguro’s novels are written haphazardly, jumping from genre to genre. He explains that he actually begins his writing process with a kernel of truth about a story he wishes to write, and then selects a setting after the fact.

For instance, at its core The Buried Giant is about remembering and forgetting–both from a micro level inside a marriage to the macro level of a civilization–and it just so happens that Ishiguro felt that post-Arthurian Britain was the best time and place for this theme. Rather than setting out to write a mythical story, Ishiguro goes “location-hunting,” as he puts it, until he settles on the right genre for his intended message. It’s a literary strategy I find very unique, and I greatly respect his ability to reverse the conventions of the writing process.

The event concluded with the signing, with each row called up one-by-one to wait its turn. I was appalled by how many people in the back rows simply left without getting their books signed. Sure, it’s late at night, but for goodness’ sake, who knows when you’d get such an opportunity again!

The three books I got signed!

The three books I got signed!

I waited patiently with the true fans, and Ishiguro was nice enough to sign all three of the books I brought. He also accepted the thank-you letter I wrote for him, and we talked for a minute about how I connected to The Buried Giant’s theme of remembering the past so as not to repeat its mistakes, given that this month commemorates the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.

I drove home that night on cloud nine, elated that I got the chance to meet one of my heroes. Some people idolize athletes or musicians, but I’ve never been so starstruck than I was standing in front of Kazuo Ishiguro. So on the off chance he actually runs across my blog, let me end this post by echoing a sentiment I included in my fan letter:

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Even if you never write another word, you have made a profound difference in my life.

The autograph I'll cherish forever!

The autograph I’ll cherish forever!

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5 thoughts on “The Day I Met One of My Heroes

  1. I wrote up my post on meeting him yesterday! The signing at our location was very rushed, everyone in one hour! We also got there a bit early, 4:45 for the 5:00 signing (we were about 25th in line) and we had great seats for the 6:00 reading! The crowd wasn’t what I expected. When I met David Sedaris, I arrived at 5 for a 7 o’clock signing and didn’t see him until 9:30!

    I’m so glad you enjoyed meeting him. I also found him a humble and polite person. It was great to meet him.

    • Yes, I was surprised as well! In my mind, Ishiguro is a mega celebrity, so it was weird to see a smaller turnout than I expected. I’m happy you had a wonderful experience too! It will definitely be one of my top highlights of this year!

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