Overtaken by Awe: Sheila Heti speaks with Sunny Yudkoff

"When you call a book 'autofiction,' you released yourself from the responsibility of actually looking at what the book is doing."

Sheila Heti sits down with Sunny Yudkoff and “Novel Dialogue” host John Plotz to discuss her incredibly varied oeuvre. She does it all: stories, novels, alphabetized diary entries, as well as a series of dialogues in The New Yorker with an AI named Alice. 

Drawing on her background in Jewish Studies, Sunny prompts Sheila to unpack the implicit and explicit theology of her recent Pure Color (Sheila admits she “spent a lot of time thinking about … what God’s pronouns are going to be”)—as well as the protagonist’s temporary transformation into a leaf. The three also explore how life and lifelikeness shape How Should a Person Be. Sheila explains why “autofiction” strikes her as a “bad category” and “a lazy way of thinking about what the author is doing formally,” since “the history of literature is authors melding their imagination with their lived experience.”  

Sheila’s response to the signature question was both textual and hilarious. A true writer’s weirdness!



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View a transcript of the episode here.


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