Armenian News-NEWS.am interviewed American-Armenian writer Armen Melikian. His Journey to Virginland received several awards, including the Written Art Award in General Fiction, the Reviewers’ Choice Award in Humor, and the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award for Best Fiction.
The first question refers to you. Tell about yourself a little. Where were you born? Where did you study?
I was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1963, the year Kennedy was assassinated. I have lived in the United States for close to 30 years. I studied international relations at the American University in Washington, D.C. During that time I worked briefly on a project to reorganize the Armenian books collection at the Library of Congress. Following my graduation I founded an organization named American Friends of Armenia to which more than fifty American celebrities joined, including many U.S. congressmen and governors of 17 American states. After Armenia’s independence I dismantled the organization and moved on with my life.
When were you first engaged in writing? My question may sound naive but why did you start writing? Do you consider writing is your mission or it is just daily routine?
Ten years ago. The morning after I dated the heroine of my book in real life with whom I shared the same birthday. No, writing is not a daily routine for me. I have certain doubts about writing as a routine. It hampers a writer’s ability to grow. Very often, though not always, writers who embark on such a mode of writing constantly produce and reproduce photocopies of one work. Writing has become my life. Often I don’t write for months. Despite that, my books keep being written within me even when I’m not putting them on paper, that is, the keyboard. But a very long hiatus may also cause significant material to be lost forever.
Your bio says you hold "Master's in International Relations from American University, Washington, D.C. He has also studied mathematics at Harvard and elsewhere, and was admitted by the Mathematical Institute of Oxford University to pursue graduate studies in Analytic Geometry, Mathematical Physics, and Topology" but then abandoned both. Why?
All of this was part of my growth. I found myself more at home in literature, as I have something to say to the world, perhaps an unknown tale—as one of my readers commented.
Journey To Virginland shows your master's in international relations impacted your writing. What about mathematical physics? Can mathematics skills help literature where often 1+1 may be 25?
1+1 always equals 2, given the right conditions and the right forum. Those who have a disdain for analytical thinking confuse various modes of reality with each other and, doing so, dictate their confused ideology and anti-science propaganda on their readers.
The critics say the style of Journey To Virginland is something new. Did you do it deliberately or did you write just as you wanted to?
Literature at large, both in its inception and in its growth and ramifications, has been a byproduct of empire, style included. Worse yet, literature is by and large valued and judged by criteria which are produced and religiously guarded by the beneficiaries or ideologues of such empires. Take the novel for instance. It presupposes ample leisure time and a market which is made possible mostly through the material means produced by advanced societies which, historically, have been those who have exploited other nations and thus created a protected zone vis a vis their own culture market, and a substructure on which this culture is built. The exploited nations have simply mimicked the literatures of their exploiters, including style and genre. Thus literature even in its format is a political statement. I am the son of a Diaspora created as a consequence of the ambitions of empires. My literature genuinely reflects my reality. Without this perspective it would be impossible to understand my literature. I simply reject the modes of literature of empires. I would rather classify mine as anti-literature or dog literature (giving reverence to the anti-hero of my book, named Dog).
In your book you are mocking at the entire world. What do you think is wrong with the world? If you were a magician and could change something what would do you change? Are you angry with the world?
Let’s revise your question a bit and ask rather “What is not wrong with the world?” Those who see the glass half-full are either deluded lunatics who are gifted various sorts of comfort zones within which they cocoon themselves, or those who are swayed by the “positivist” ideological propaganda of these very citizens of empires. The glass is not half empty. That’s a misstatement. It is 99 percent empty. Anger at the world? No. My literature is satirical. I am having fun, laughing at the world and its main actors, be they founders of religions or political honchos ruling the world.
How did American readers perceive Journey To Virginland?
Some of the evaluations of my readers are on my book’s website. My readers are divided. They either fully embrace my book considering it “divine” writing, or detest it with all their guts, venom, and bile. Fortunately perhaps, the first group is larger and keeps growing day by day.
Journey To Virginland tells about events Armenians are familiar with. Has anyone applied to you for translating it into Armenian?
No one has made a proposal yet.
What are your plans for the future? Do you plan to visit "Paradise"?
Not at this time. Thank you for the invitation.