Interview: Jeffery Ryan Long
Jeffery Ryan Long lives in Honolulu and is a student in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.
How long have you been writing? What has changed, in terms of either subject or yourself as a writer, along the way?
I’ve been writing since I was in high school, though for a long time I was engaged with poetry and songwriting. During my final semesters as an undergraduate I began writing stories, because I became very interested in the many possibilities of narrative as a means of expressing ideas.
Could you tell us about what kind of stories you wrote back then? What ideas did you strive to express?
I was attracted to narrative as a means of expressing ideas because in songwriting, I had a hard time moving outside my point of view in order to say something about any particular thing. It was all very personal, and somewhat monotone. With narrative fiction, I was able to bury, a little, my own point of view in an effort to portray people that I didn’t necessarily know or agree with. This inspired me to talk to people, to learn from people, to try to understand what different people felt, and why they felt that way. There are magnificent stories out in the world I’ve never personally lived or even quite grasp the significance of. But they are beautiful–and all stories have something to teach. So, by respecting these different voices–and if I can express at least part of that beauty, and try to understand, with the reader, where the meaning lies in the story–I feel like, through narrative, I can express something meaningful.
How would you describe your work thus far?
The majority of my work is about work–the identities we create for ourselves while we work, and how those identities are sometimes in conflict with how we act or feel outside of work. For the most part I’ve stopped writing stories that aren’t about or set in Hawai’i.
Why is that?
I must admit, I felt a little uncomfortable about writing about Hawai’i because, even though I have roots here, I am sensitive to the politics of identity like “local” and “haole” and “settler” (there are probably more terms I haven’t heard yet). I thought it would be easier to avoid the conflict altogether, if I just write about these places I’ve made up in my mind.
As I grew in my writing, I realized that avoiding Hawai’i was cheating my own inspiration, in a way. As someone who lives here and sees what happens here from a variety of perspectives, I feel compelled to contribute to the conversation about this constantly growing, constantly changing, constantly intriguing place.
Are there certain fields of labor that your writing addresses?
There aren’t certain fields of labor–but, as an office man, I find there is a lot of drama that exists in the workplace, especially when the line of personal vs. professional breaks down.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on several stories (more stories about work) and revising some earlier things I’ve been putting off. All this in addition to schoolwork and work-work.
Could you give us a preview of what you’re planning on reading at MIA?
I’ll be reading “Two Drunks” at MIA, a short story originally featured in Intellectual Refuge in 2012. I’ll have a few copies of my short story collection University and King available for anyone who might want a copy.
Hear Jeff read his work on Sept. 17, 2015 7 p.m. at Manifest in Chinatown.