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The PEN Ten with Mohsin Hamid


The PEN Ten is PEN America’s weekly interview series. This week, we talk with Mohsin Hamid, the internationally bestselling author of Moth Smoke, The Reluctant FundamentalistHow to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, and the forthcoming essay collection Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London. His novels have been adapted for the cinema, short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and translated into more than thirty languages. He currently resides in Lahore.

When did being a writer begin to inform your sense of identity?

Not sure. I wrote my first long story, an illustrated galactic soap opera, when I was about seven.

Whose work would you like to steal without attribution or consequences?

Jorge Luis Borges.

Where is your favorite place to write?

In bed.

Have you ever been arrested? Care to discuss?

I’ve seen the inside of police stations. Not always by choice. But I’ve never officially been arrested.

Obsessions are influences—what are yours?

The usual: people, memories, sex, death.

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever put into words?

Tricky. Maybe a first person account of a writer being beheaded.

What is the responsibility of the writer?

There is no responsibility of the writer that is different from the responsibility of the human being.

While the notion of the public intellectual has fallen out of fashion, do you believe writers have a collective purpose?

I believe all writing is political.

What book would you send to the leader of a government that imprisons writers?

A list of the locations and values of all that leader’s assets abroad. In mass-market paperback format.

Where is the line between observation and surveillance?

Observation is a power of the individual. Surveillance is the activity of a group.

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