Amy Kurzweil’s Artificial: A Love Story (Catapult, Oct. 17) links generations in an exploration of technology and memory. The graphic memoir made our list of the Best Nonfiction of 2023. Kurzweil answered our questions by email; her answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What have been some delights and challenges of using a graphic memoir to explore cultural memory?
Artificial is about the future life of documentation, so much of the book is full of re-created artifacts. It was meaningful and challenging to spend so much time literally tracing old things. It was especially uncanny to trace my grandfather’s handwriting and my grandmother’s paintings, to go over with my hands things that they once created with theirs. I can’t imagine telling this story any other way.
What was the original idea that started you working on the book?
I’ve probably been writing this for my whole life, but I can trace its germ seed back to a piece from 2012 I wrote in the no-longer-active literary journal Hot Street. “My Father’s Office” was about my father’s epic collection of porcelain cat figurines. The piece follows me and my parents on a trip to the ballet while reflecting on my father’s belief that the objects of our lives could one day offer us artificial life. It ends with an invocation of the storage unit of my grandfather’s documents, around which Artificial revolves. I then spent seven years fleshing [that piece] out.
Who is the ideal reader for your book?
This book is for anyone who likes to read a graphic book multiple times and to study its pages like a map. My ideal reader will be interested in the big questions: What is a person? How do we relate to time? What does it mean to love someone? I would love for students to read Artificial in a science or humanities classroom, or in a book group where they can continue the conversations that I hope the book will prompt.
Were you able to do live events for the book this year?
In a week from the time of writing this, I embark on a book tour. Other than my events in San Francisco (where I live), I’ll be visiting Madison, Wisconsin; Iowa; Las Vegas; Boston; New York; Vermont; and Savannah, Georgia. Books Are Magic, where I’ll be on November 13, is located on my old street in Brooklyn, in the same building where a psychic I once visited (documented in Artificial!) used to conduct her business. How uncanny!
What books published in 2023 were among your favorites?
I love This Country, by New Yorker cartoonist Navied Mahdavian, about three years he spent homesteading in rural Idaho. I’m now reading Daniel Gumbiner’s Fire in the Canyon, a beautiful evocation of life in California’s precarious present.
Katherine King is an editorial intern.