Michelle Latiolais remembers being 17, sitting in a psychology class and hearing about autism for the first time. She became fascinated with how impaired or damaged minds work and how they communicate obsessively within themselves. In a way, she says, the process is very similar to the way an artist works.
Here, the UC Irvine Programs in Writing co-director talks about her new novel, A Proper Knowledge, and the processes of writing and reading.
Q: What is the story about?
A: A Proper Knowledge is my second novel and was published by Bellevue Literary Press, a very new publisher out of Bellevue Hospital in New York City. They publish any genre – poetry, essays, novels – that has some kind of medical aspect to the writing. The story is about a psychiatrist who specializes in treating autistic children with high intelligence levels and it’s also a love story. I think one of the impetuses for having a love story in a book about a psychiatrist who treats children with difficult, occult minds is that knowing anybody else’s mind is a great darkness, really, and coming to love somebody is coming to know their mind better and better. That’s the parallel within the novel.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
A: One of the things we’ve forgotten about is the sentence-by-sentence experience of reading. To reduce all beautiful books to points is wrong. My book is a variant of being in this world and watching a mind that’s difficult to fathom yet trying to figure it out. The experience of doing that is what’s most important – of being reminded about the great value of trying to understand someone else’s mind. We do writing a disservice by saying there’s this little nugget you want out of it.
Q: Talk about the similarities between the autistic mind and the artistic mind.
A: I am fascinated by the impaired, obsessive mind and dialogue within. That is very similar to the notion of the artist, because art really has nothing to do with the audience. First and foremost, the artist is having an intense dialogue with self, no matter what the medium.