Murakami at Zellerbach: summary


As you know, I saw and met Haruki Murakami “in real life” this past weekend, at both his Cal Performances Zellerbach talk Saturday and his book signing Sunday.  I thought it would never happen–he rarely comes out to the West Coast, and I never seemed to find out about his east coast appearances until too late.  (Next stop: Jeffrey Eugenides!)

During his talk, I scribbled and scribbled.  I have a general obsession with recording things for posterity (hence this blog), further exacerbated by the fact that since my stroke, I haven’t had much confidence in my short term memory (even though it’s pretty much all okay now). And because of that and because any Murakami fan knows that he hates photographs and videography–I scribbled and scribbled, not wanting to forget a single world. (In an interesting way, he forced me to use words as a medium to remember him–what a writer!)

Above is a picture of the empty seats, before Murakami came up on stage (yes!  I had 6th row seats!). He sat on the left, his interviewer Roland Kelts on the right.

I ended up with a pretty good transcription, about 95% accurate.


The auditorium of 800+ people hushed during the conversation between Haruki Murakami and Roland Kelts–it felt special, even though at times I felt the questions were more awestruck than intelligent, more awestruck than probing.  His answers often stayed on the well trodden path, but his humor and charm still very much pervaded the dialogue.

Murakami began the evening by reading his story, “Rise and Fall of the Sharpie Cakes,” an analogy for his relationship with literary critics. He read the story in Japanese (“Maybe some of you won’t understand Japanese. But that is quite unfortunate—but not my fault! (laughter from audience) So make yourself comfortable and enjoy the sound!”) The topics of discussion ranged from his obsessions (“Elephant, wells, refrigerators, cats, ears, sofa, couch”), to his musical tastes (classical, jazz, the Beach Boys), to his writing process and to his writing as it pertains to Japanese society. Quite a range.

(And for the record–Murakami was dressed in mustard-colored sneakers (they looked like chucks), chino pants, a light colored tshirt, with a dark grey cotton blazer jacket.  His voice was baritone but slightly sleepy sounding, as if he’d had a good nap before the performance).

Though I transcribed the conversation in its entirety, I will not be posting it in public. But here are a few excerpts…

On correspondence with readers:
Roland Kelts: You respond by email to your readers.

Haruki Murakami: It’s fun! The other day I got a question from one of my readers, he asked me a stupid question. I like stupid questions. He asked me squid has ten tentacles and he wanted to know if those tentacles are feet or hands. [laughter from audience] So I answered, put out ten socks and ten gloves, and let him choose!

On his writing process and going into the “underground”:
RK: You have said that a writer has to go to a dark place, the underground. In “Talk About Running,” you use the term, “toxic humanity.” You say a writer’s job is a dirty job and you have to confront the underground. Can you talk about what you experience doing that?

HM: I get up early in the morning, four or five, and I go to bed at 9pm—in fact it’s time to go! [at this point, it was 9:05pm]. And then I work three to four hours in the quiet and dark by myself. I concentrate on my work. Why I work in the early morning is I think I’m going down to the underground, there is a dark room and a secret door and I see something there I am not sure but I see those things I observe and remember, I come back to the ground, I write it, and shut the door. It’s dark work, a dark procedure.

Then I walk around, jogging, in the sun. Balance work in the darkness and sun. I run everyday, even here in Berkeley. I have to be tough to go to the dark place. If I am not tough, I will be defeated. You have to come back! Otherwise you will be lost. I have to be tough and have confidence, stay strong.

So what I’m doing is just observing things, not making up.

On Dreaming:
RK: This question is from Annie Kim. Do you dream vividly? If so, how often do dreams influence your characters?

HM: It’s simple: I don’t dream. It’s true, I’m not joking. You know I go to bed from nine to four. When I get up, I’m empty. I don’t remember. Maybe I do but I’m empty when I get up. Mr. Kawai said as a writer it’s normal. But as a writer I use it. I think I can dream while I am awake. Novelists dream when they are awake. You can dream intentionally. It’s fun, really fun.

On his next book!!!
RK: No name on this question. Mr. Murakami are you going to write a long novel again?

HM: I finished my new novel last week [loud applause]. It’s going to be a heavy book. I hope you are not commuting [referring to an earlier question about the length of his books and how his readers hate how heavy and burdensome they are to read while commuting to work on a train]. The book is out next year in Japan, and then this country after another year. I’m very happy and relaxed now, as you can see.

I walk around the city of Tokyo and somebody comes up to me and says I like your new book very much and I say thank you, please buy my next book.

Others say they hate it. And so I tell them I’m very sorry, but please buy my next book.

A delightful exchange about his favorite music:
RK: What’s your favorite band?

HM: Classical music in the morning, jazz after sunset. Daytime: rock music. I like Radiohead [cheers from audience]. Tom York likes my book. He is in Tokyo now and I am here in Berkeley. I am missing baseball game and Tom York.

I like REM, Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sometimes I sing while swimming.

RK: How do you sing while swimming?

HM: It’s boring in the pool. So I sing.

RK: How? When your head comes up?

HM: I’m bubbling.

RK: In the water?

HM: You should try!

RK: There’ll now be drowning cases.

HM: I like The Beach Boys. So beautiful, surfing in the 60s. I met Mr. Wilson when he came to Tokyo. He’s strange. But he’s a genius.

I like Jim Morrison.

But you know, musicians I like, they are kind of drug addicts. And the writers I like, alcoholic. Carver, Chandler, Fitzgerald…

RK: But you’re so healthy.

HM: Oh I’m fine! I’m a junkie for vinyl. But healthy!

On collecting vinyls and Berkeley:
RK: Did you find a record or two, special find in Berkeley?

HM: I was here sixteen years ago when there were lots of stores. But not anymore—just Rasputin’s and Amoeba—both of them strange names, weird names! Something is wrong with this town!



Filed under Fiction Writing Links, Inspiring, Life, People, Writing

11 responses to “Murakami at Zellerbach: summary

  1. hyunjin

    thanks for sharing, i got a clear sense of the mood and tone of the talk and murakami’s humor.

  2. w

    THANK YOU for sharing this. I love interviews. And I love that type of stupid question—and the fact that Murakami called it a stupid question!

  3. chaesq

    This is so insignificant, but I really enjoy your handwriting! =) Thanks, JP, for all your well-wishes, for me and my family.

  4. So wonderful!

    What he says makes me wish I had a dark “underground” place to spend my morning writing hours. Writing in public works some days, but other days I am so aware of every fidget and conversation and slurp and crying kid around me… How can I get my best writing out with all that going on? Something to think about.

    His next novel is a heavy book! OMG SO EXCITED.

  5. so glad you enjoyed. it was a good talk and am happy to share excerpts from the night.

    nova: it is interesting and true that in order to go to the psychic “underground” it’s almost as if you have to literally SIT in an environment resembling the “underground!” which is why, i guess, writers’ colonies appeal to writers.

  6. Thank you so much for posting this. Interesting to read how early he wakes to write. Octavia Butler said the same thing when I saw her read in Oakland. I think she said she wrote around 4 or 5 a.m. before work.

  7. Eric

    Wow! I’m now definitely more inspired to give Nano a go!
    (love the notebook you used to write your transcription btw! 😉

  8. Stephanie: I know! 4 or 5am takes DEDICATION and an early bedtime.

    Eric: Go for NaNoWriMo, dude. 🙂 And yes, the notebook is the one you gave me! I was panicked when I realized I brought nothing to write upon, and then I realized: I HAVE THE NOTEBOOK ERIC GAVE ME STILL IN MY PURSE!!!! Everyone, you can buy one yourself at They’re the “field notes” on the first page:–pack-of-3-notebook3.html

  9. KC

    thank for sharing! I was also fortunate to attend his book signing and talk at NYC, for New Yorker Festival 2008.

  10. Pingback: Recent Reading « BlogLily

  11. Cruizen

    This was great reading, since I’m in the middle of a raging Murakami fever.

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