10 Things You Didn’t Know About Hanya Yanagihara

In the world of contemporary literature, few names have risen to the fore with as much rapidity and sustained impact as Hanya Yanagihara. Her work is a tour-de-force of raw emotion and gripping narrative, but there is so much more to know about the woman behind the words. Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Hanya Yanagihara:

1. She was born in Hawaii

Yes, you read that right. Hanya Yanagihara, the author of such harrowing yet soulful books like “A Little Life”, was born and raised in the tropical paradise of Hawaii. This is a bit of a shock for the fans of her work which often delves into the melancholy and stark reality of life.

Born to a Thai mother and a father of Japanese-Korean descent, Yanagihara’s upbringing was culturally rich, something that is often reflected in her characters’ tapestry of experiences. This East-meets-West, island-meets-city juxtaposition is a recurring theme in her works, leading to her richly designed literary world.

2. She’s an Editor-at-Large

Apart from being a celebrated author, Yanagihara also has a successful career in a different area of the literary field. She’s the Editor-at-Large of Conde Nast Traveler magazine, and she often entwines her love for travel with her gifted storytelling ability.

This dual identity as a writer and editor has allowed her to carve out a niche for herself in the highly competitive world of New York publishing. From penning deeply moving novels to crafting compelling travelogues and editing thoughtful features, Yanagihara’s professional trajectory is a study in storytelling versatility.

3. Her full-time job influenced “A Little Life”

When Yanagihara was writing her much-lauded novel, “A Little Life,” she was also serving as the deputy editor at T Magazine. This high-pressure job inadvertently influenced Yanagihara’s narrative, infusing it with some of the atmosphere of the bustling, demanding Manhattan milieu.

In fact, Yanagihara has disclosed in interviews that some of the intense emotions and situations in “A Little Life” were actual, lived experiences of her coworkers. The book’s depiction of human relationships, coping mechanisms, and the inexorability of life thus have roots in real-life experiences.

4. She wrote “A Little Life” in 18 months

Yanagihara’s second novel, the critically acclaimed “A Little Life” was written in a remarkably short span of time – just 18 months to be precise. This wouldn’t be unusual if it weren’t for the depth and breadth of this massive, 700-plus-page work.

She’s mentioned that she worked on the novel during weekends, and every night after work, adopting a near-compulsive writing routine. This incredible dedication to craft, even amidst demanding work commitments, is testament to Yanagihara’s dogged determination and respect for her art.

5. She has an interest in fashion

Yanagihara’s fascination with fashion, particularly its intricate cross-stitching with history and culture, is no secret. She has often expressed her admiration for designers who understand and uphold the socio-cultural dynamics of clothing and fashion.

This interest in fashion also seeps into her writing. Her characters are never divorced from their physicalities; they, their clothes, and their style choices are invariably a part of the larger narrative. It paints a vibrant, living picture that adds to the authenticity and depth of her novels.

6. She didn’t expect the success of “A Little Life”

Despite the intense emotions and deeply human themes in her second novel, Yanagihara has confessed that she didn’t think “A Little Life” would garner commercial success. Yet, the book proved to be a sensation, capturing hearts worldwide with its brutally honest portrayal of human suffering, resilience, and abiding friendship.

The book was shortlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize and has been translated into several languages, firmly establishing Yanagihara’s legacy as a novelist whose works resonate universally.

7. She’s taken a stance against critics

Yanagihara’s works, especially “A Little Life,” have generated much debate among readers and critics alike. While some laud it for its brutal realism and raw emotionality, others find it too graphic and painful. Yanagihara, however, isn’t bothered by the division.

She believes that a writer’s job is not to cater to the tastes of every reader but to tell the story they want, how they want. Her confidence, candor, and commitment to her chosen narrative form underscore her artistic integrity, highlighting the unapologetic brilliance of her craft.

8. She has an eclectic mix of favorite authors

From Toni Morrison and Kazuo Ishiguro to Gabriel García Márquez and William Faulkner, Yanagihara’s tastes in literature are as diverse as they come. The influence of these stalwarts can often be seen in her own writing—how she explores the human condition, builds complex characters, and delves into painful realities.

Her rich literary influences contribute to her own unique voice, helping her to craft intricate narratives that explore the human psyche and the many dimensions of earthly existence.

9. She’s a private person

Despite her commanding public presence as a renowned author and editor, Yanagihara prefers to lead a low-key life. She hasn’t shared much about her personal life in interviews and avoids the limelight when it comes to her personal affairs. This sequestering of her public and private personas reflects her keen appreciation for solitude and the private realm, adding an intriguing dichotomy to her personality.

10. She endorses queer literature

Yanagihara is known for her inclusion of gay characters in her novels, especially in “A Little Life.” She believes that queer literature still needs mainstream attention and has urged writers to be more inclusive in their narratives. Not shying away from exploring themes related to sexual identity and queerness, her work has been hailed as pioneering in giving voice to the often marginalized experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Useful links

The Atlantic Article on A Little Life
Conde Nast Contributor Profile
The Times Literary Supplement Review of A Little Life