Writers Series: Ferdinand von Schirach

Ferdinand von Schirach

Factsheet

  • born in 1964 in Germany
  • Education: studied law (specialisation: criminal law)
  • First publication: short stories Verbrechen (crime) in 2009 (aged 45)

Ferdinand von Schirach was 45, when he published his first book, a selection of short stories that are loosly based on cases he had worked on as a lawyer. Before his career in writing, he was a very successful lawyer and had many famous and influencial clients. Following the success of his first book, he has published several other collections of stories, novels and essays. He still keeps his chambers.

Apparently, he is one of the few contemporary German writers with international success.


I first heart of Ferdinand von Schirach through an interview with the German newspaper Die Süddeutsche. The title is: “It is not about loneliness, it is about distance.” That caught my attention. How he openly spoke about feeling distanced from people and how he likes to be alone, even prefers it sometimes. He seems like a person, who knows what he’s saying, because he has thought about already for a very long time. Maybe because he only started his publishing career in his mid-40s. He is not overwhelmed by his success. It feels like had given this interview many times before in his head.

It is not a common and popular way to be these days. Everybody is supposed to be active on social media to keep up with life, especially if you are writer and want to promote your book. You need to be proactive, outgoing, even slightly aggressive. Is seems that writing the book is only half of it – once it is written, you need to become some happy go lucky puppet that loves smalltalk and canapes. And if you are not into all that – how dare you speak out about it?!

After the newspaper interview, I was intrigued and read his first book Verbrechen (crime), because I like crime and detective stories. I read, or rather listened to, it in one go on a very long train ride between the Netherlands and the south of Germany. It grasps the banality and triviality of life in a very distanced and detached style of writing. The tragedies of life stand on their own, without being dramatised through literary transformation – naked, just as they are: normal tragedies of life.

His literary work is not only reflected in his interviews, but also on his website. Here is a screenshot from the landing page:

schirach_website

 

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Writers Series: Ernest James Gaines

Factsheet

  • born 1933
  • Education: Writing and American Literature in San Francisco and at Stanford University
  • First publication: a short story in 1956

Gaines was born on a plantation in Lousiana 1933. He says about himself that he started his training to become a writer when he was about 12 years old. He had to write letters for the old workers on the plantation, who didn’t know how to read or write. Since they had not much to say by themselves he wrote the letters for them. Part of it was his own imagination; part of it came from questioning them.

Aged 15, he moved to California and first entered a library. It is not that there had been no libraries in Lousiana – but they were only for white people. The saw the amount of books, however, none them delt with his people. So, he decided to write his own novel.

He wrote his first novel aged 17. It was rejected and he burned it.

He published his first piece, a short story, in 1956.


In short

He knew he wanted to be a writer from very early on and he followed that career path. He studied Literature and Creative Writing, he sent out manuscripts to publishers and he got a fellowship at Stanford University. In general, in was a very straight forward career path.

What to do with your life

Here is another Post inspired by a fellow blogger. My story goes as follows:
AutofahrenWhen I was still a student, I frequently made use of a mode of transportation called “Mitfahrgelegenheit”. It is similar to car-sharing, but not quite like it. The system basically works like this: people with a car and people without a car, who need a ride, find each other on a website to share the costs of the trip. Let’s say person x wants to go from A to B by car on a particular day leaving A at a particular time. X posts this offer on the website, which was called mitfahrgelegenheit.de (but has lost popularity recently because of introducing a more complicated memebership scheme; I don’t know what people use nowadays, because I don’t live in Germany any more) and waits for people to call. Now, if person y doesn’t have a car, but also wants to go from A to B on the same day and time, y will call x and they share the ride and cost of ravel. Usually, if you are alone with the driver, you’d have to sit in the front and entertain the driver. Unless he or she has turned the volume or the radio to a level which makes conversation impossible. Then you are allowed to zoom out. If you are alone in the back the expected level of friendly small talk doesn’t exceed your occupation and reasons for traveling to B. If you share the back with another person, the situation is not as clear. Usually, you would try some small talk and see, if it develops into a real conversation. If not, you can put your earplugs in or listen to some music or pretend to sleep. I never sleep in a stranger’s car, but I have often pretended to do so, because I was tired of the conversation. You don’t have to want to talk to just anyone.

 
On that particular day, I was sitting in the back with a guy. We just went through the basics: where are you from? Where are you going now? What are doing?
He was kind of interesting, but a bit pretentious. So, I wanted to just get it over with and start my audiobook. He was from Palestine and came to Germany to study. He had just started a program to become a vet in a city, that I can’t remember. It was something I had no relation to, like Hanover or so. I asked him a – in my eyes rhetorical – question:
“So, do you like animals?”
He replied: “No.”
I asked the obvious question: “Why are you studying to become a vet then?”
He said: “I’m interested in animals, I don’t like them. That’s a difference.”
I said: “Ok.”
I had gotten him started:
“I think you shouldn’t study something that you like. It is much better to study a subject, because you are interested in it. For example, I really like music. My family is very musical. My brother decided to make music his profession. He now lives in Paris and really struggles to make ends meets through making music. He’s playing with his band every night, but they hardly make enough to support themselves. He told me how frustrated he is and how he less and less finds pleasure in playing music. It has become a duty.”

It is much better to choose a profession that you find interesting, but without the emotional attachment of liking or even loving.

*I can’t find the original post by the fellow blogger who inspired this piece anymore. I hope, you get it anyway.*

Glass ceiling?

I once talked to a guy from my masters degree class. We were discussing our future career. He had applied for a PhD. He wasn’t sure about going for it. He had gotten the place, but he needed to secure funding for it. He told me that he would be the first person in his family to have a PhD. His sister wouldn’t have the brains to do it, he told me. She had stopped after her bachelors. He, however, had never felt that he had reached his academic limit. Like… intellectually.
I had never even had a thought of anybody having such a limit. For me it was always a question of will (and maybe opportunity) rather than intellect.
I was the first person in my family to enrol in an institution of higher education. I am also the first person to have gained a degree from a university. And a postgraduate degree. I have always believed that this is not because my family was stupid and intellectually incapable of attending university. They just never had a chance. It was no option for them. Either for socio-economic reasons or… being a woman.