Novelist shares humor, wisdom at Kent State

Skye McEowen

Life is always interesting when one immigrates to the United States, and for novelist Gary Shteyngart, his story was no different.

In the Kiva on Wednesday night, Shteyngart shared snippets of his life in coming to America and what it takes to be a writer, all mixed with lively humor and sarcasm. 

“People ask me, ‘How do you become a writer?’ One, you have to be asthmatic,” Shteyngart said. “Then you got to have a grandmother that loves to write.”

Originally from Leningrad in the former Soviet Union (now known as St. Petersburg), Shteyngart immigrated to the U.S. in 1979. He chronicled some of his stories from his life in his latest novel, a memoir entitled “Little Failure.” 

“1980 was a tough time to be a Russian-American,” Shteyngart said. “All those movies: ‘Red Dawn’, Red Gerbil, Red Hamster. Everything was red.”

The evening was split into four separate readings from different parts of Shteyngart’s memoir, all with their own anecdotes of what was going on in his life at the time.

The readings focused on various parts of his life, ranging from the time his family thought they had won a $10 million lottery after being in the U.S. for two years to moving to Queens as a child. 

In his fourth reading, Shteyngart read about trying to make his first new friend in school.

“I’m an immigrant, and she has one eye so we’re even,” Shteyngart said to laughter from the audience. 

Shteyngart took questions from the audience afterward, one question referring to James Franco.

Shteyngart starred in a book trailer for “Little Failure” by Random House Publishing Group, where Franco played his husband, both talking about their upcoming novels in pink robes, and sharing a kiss. 

“(Franco is) good; he’s got very soft lips,” Shteyngart said.

At the end, Shteyngart departed some more wisdom about his experience in writing.

“You got to read all the time if you want to be a writer,” he said. “Writing really brings people together in a nice way.” 

Overall, Shteyngart’s appearance was well received by students Seth Murray, a sophomore English major, and Maddie Williamson, freshman biology major. 

“I loved it,” Murray said. “He’s a writer that really stuck with me.”

“I thought it was really interesting; he was really funny,” Williamson said. “I liked the (reading) where he was reading with his teacher.” 

Shteyngart’s visit was a part of the Guest of Honor University Artist/Lecture Series sponsored by the Office of Provost and Jewish Studies Program, and the Kent State University Honors College coordinated the event.

Contact Skye McEowen at [email protected].