On the Spot: Amy Waldman

Amy Waldman’s debut novel, “The Submission,” presents a simple question with a complicated answer: What if the jury for New York City’s 9/11 memorial unknowingly picked a design by a Muslim architect? Waldman, a former New York Times reporter, shines a light on how we remember one of our nation’s greatest tragedies and how we treat each other in its aftermath.

Working from the premise, did you know where the novel would go?
I entered into it a little bit like how I used to write a newspaper story. I wanted to have all my facts assembled before I started writing, but I figured out that fiction did not work like that. I had to learn to let go and accept that I didn’t know what’s going to happen.

How did your journalism background inform the book?
I was on the metro desk of the Times during 9/11. It gave me a pretty visceral sense of what it was like to be in the city at that time. It gave me a broader sense — beyond my own personal experience — of how this was impacting individual lives.

Did you see yourself contributing to the existing body of 9/11 literature?
I didn’t read those books. Some of that writing [such as John Updike's 2007 novel "Terrorist"] deals with trying to get into the minds of terrorists and things like that. I was going after something very different. The point for me is, what is it like to be Muslim and not a terrorist in the wake of 9/11?

“The Submission” really isn’t about 9/11, but about how we think and talk about it now. Were you specifically trying to avoid recounting the attacks themselves?
I wasn’t interested in writing about that day. How we think about it in the aftermath is often elusive and contradictory, so that’s what I wanted to explore instead of the direct experience.

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