Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Michael Cunningham visits Prague for Writer's Festival event

Michael Cunningham, photo: CTK

Michael Cunningham is perhaps best known for his 1998 novel The Hours, which won both a Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner award. The book was later made into a movie of the same title, starring Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, who won an Oscar for best actress. Cunningham was in the Czech capital recently for a previously postponed Prague Writers' Festival event; he spoke to Radio Prague about his approach to writing, whether readers differ around the world and his impressions of the Czech capital.

Michael Cunningham,  photo: CTK
The author first outlined his modus operandi.

"I need to be alone. I get up in the morning and go to my studio and sit by myself for four or five hours. I don't write in cafes, I don't write on park benches. Then at the end of the day when I'm done being by myself I run out into the street. I live in New York City and one of the reasons I love New York is that after all those hours of solitude I really need to be...in the biggest, noisiest, most raucous possible place where people are walking around with their hair on fire singing arias."

Michael Cunningham also explained what he is hoping to achieve when he sits down to write his sometimes complex books.

"I don't feel that I know anything that my readers don't know. I'm not there to teach my readers a lesson. I write for people who are a little bit smarter than I am. And I feel like I am telling stories that we all know, and offering with my novels a sense of companionship for readers, a sense of living in a slightly bigger world and getting access to the lives of others. Neither more nor less than that."

Since The Hours he has published one novel, Specimen Days, which came out in May this year. That takes his overall tally to four. Is there one book the author is particularly fond of?

"My favourite book is always the last book I wrote, because I feel with every book you get a little better, you know a little more about what you're doing, you feel better at it...well, my favourite book is actually the one I'm working on now.

That's all Cunningham would tell Radio Prague about what we can expect from him next.

While writing may be the most solitary of professions in many ways, book tours and other engagements allow authors to meet their readers, and vice versa. But do readers differ from country to country?

"There's not so much difference. Readers are probably citizens of an international country, all its own. And in most countries I meet people who are intelligent and curious and willing to be challenged, willing to be delighted, which is all I ask of a reader. And in that regard the citizens of Czechoslovakia are not that different from the citizens of Japan."

Michael Cunningham had been due to attend the 16th Prague Writers' Festival in June, but was forced to reschedule. Radio Prague caught up with him at the very end of his three-day stay in the Czech capital this month - it seems the visit was worth the wait.

"Prague has deeply impressed me. The beauty of the city and...what feels like this sort of - how to put this? - the courage and kindness of the people. The people have been fantastic."