5 Questions with Sara Majka, Author of Cities I’ve Never Lived In

cities i've neverOn February 25th, authors Sara Majka and Naomi Williams are in conversation with Yiyun Li at City Lights Bookstore. Majka and Williams are both celebrating the release of their new books. Majka is the author of Cities I’ve Never Lived In (published by Graywolf/A Public Space) and Williams is the author of Landfalls: A Novel (published by FSG).

Majka answered our five questions below.

Event: Thursday, February 25 at 7:00PM. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133. This event is cosponsored by A Public Space and Graywolf.

About Cities I’ve Never Lived in: Fearlessly riding the line between imagination and experience, fact and fiction, the linked stories in Sara Majka’s debut collection offer intimate glimpses of a young New England woman whose life must begin afresh after a divorce. Traveling the roads of Maine and the train tracks of Grand Central Station, moving from vast shorelines to the unmade beds of strangers, these fourteen stories circle the dreams of a narrator who finds herself turning to storytelling as a means of working through the world and of understanding herself. A book that upends our ideas of love and belonging, and which asks how much of ourselves we leave behind with each departure we make, Cities I’ve Never Lived In exposes, with great sadness and great humor, the ways in which we are most of all citizens of the places where we cannot stay.

About Landfalls: Landfalls is a gripping story of a dramatic eighteenth-century voyage of discovery. In her wildly inventive debut novel, Naomi J. Williams reimagines the historical Lapérouse expedition, a voyage of exploration that left Brest in 1785 with two frigates, more than two hundred men, and overblown Enlightenment ideals and expectations, in a brave attempt to circumnavigate the globe for science and the glory of France.

Deeply grounded in historical fact but refracted through a powerful imagination, Landfalls follows the exploits and heartbreaks not only of the men on the ships but also of the people affected by the voyage-indigenous people and other Europeans the explorers encountered, loved ones left waiting at home, and those who survived and remembered the expedition later. Each chapter is told from a different point of view and is set in a different part of the world, ranging from London to Tenerife, from Alaska to remote South Pacific islands to Siberia, and eventually back to France. The result is a beautifully written and absorbing tale of the high seas, scientific exploration, human tragedy, and the world on the cusp of the modern era.

sara majka author photo
Photo of Sara Majka by Sara Ward

About Sara Majka: When she was young, Sara Majka’s family moved along the New England shoreline with the Coast Guard, living in Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Cuttyhunk, northern Maine, and even for a time in a lighthouse. She went on to get graduate degrees in writing from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Bennington College and was awarded a fiction fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in A Public Space, PEN America, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Guernica. After years of moving and traveling, she now lives in Queens, New York with her young son. Cities I’ve Never Lived In is her first book.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Sara Majka: I knew San Francisco had a famous bookstore, so I sought it out when I was visiting the city. I got mixed up though, and ended up at A Different Light in the Castro. I had a sense that I was at a different bookstore than the one I thought I was at.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

SM: I have this strange fear that people are going to ask me about music or ask me to create a mixed tape to help promote the book. For some reason I haven’t been listening to music lately. I chronically have talk radio on. I went through a stage where I listened to sports radio all day. It was baseball season. People were really involved with the Mets and I found this comforting.

CL: What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

SM: As in, when I was a kid? I have the worst memory. I seem to remember The Secret Garden. I can remember the first book I stopped reading. The House of the Seven Gables. I was really young, it was really dense, etc. I had to admit that I wasn’t going to make it through.

CL: If you weren’t a writer, what might you do?

SM: I plan good day trips on a small budget, but I can’t think of a way to monetize this. For some reason the first thing I thought of was that I can see signs quickly, usually much more quickly than other people. Can one make money with this skill?

CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no wifi). 

SM: I would need water, food, ways to get help. Sunscreen. Cookies.

See Sara and Naomi Williams at City Lights on February 25th discussing their books with author Yiyun Li. Check out Sara and Naomi’s tour and other info on their official pages, and see a sneak peek of Cities I’ve Never Lived In via our friends at Graywolf. Stay abreast of all the happenings at City Lights Books on our calendar page.

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