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Tippecanoe High School Dayton Youth Radio students interview Dayton Literary Peace Prize authors

Dayton Youth Radio students posing with instructor (from L to R) Madison Featherstone, Jack Wyant, Francesca Neilson Basim Blunt and Isa Ramos
(From L to R) Madison Featherstone, Jack Wyant, Francesca Neilson, Basim Blunt and Isa Ramos

Last fall, two authors, Ben Fountain, the author of "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" and Andrew Krivak, writer of "The Sojourn," were interviewed by students Jack Wyant, Isa Ramos, Francesca Neilson and Madison Featherstone. Listen to some excerpts from their conversation.

Jack Wyant: Hey, guys. I'm Jack Wyant. I'm a junior here at Tipp High School, and I'm here with the one and only Ben Fountain. So first, I want to start off by asking, you know, how has the Dayton area been for you while you've been here?

Ben Fountain: I like Dayton. Dayton is alright. I've never been here before. I live in Dallas, Texas, which is flat, hot, not very green. So I get up here and it's fall, you have rolling hills and beautiful trees. And so I've had a nice two days here.

Jack Wyant: So you wrote this book, you know, around like a decade ago. So I'm wondering, how has writing this book impacted your life?

Ben Fountain: You know, I've met a lot of good people over the years because of this book. A movie got made about this book. So I got to have Vin Diesel come up and ask me who my major literary influences are. You know, so that's that's a moment I never thought I would have. But I'm always thinking most about the thing I'm working on right now.

Jack Wyant: And can I ask, what you are working on right now?

Ben Fountain: Yeah, I just. I just finished a novel set in Haiti. And that's a country I started going to in 1991. I felt like there were things happening in Haiti that I needed to try to understand things that have to do with politics and power and race and history. And and, you know, the most fundamental kind of economics, like who are the winners and who are the losers and why and and also this other reality. I mean, we have our American reality here in the US of a certain standard of living. And and then you have the reality of, you know, several billion people on this planet who live on less than a dollar a day. And I just felt like I had to try to engage with that other reality and try to understand it.

Isa Ramos: Hi there. My name is Isa Ramos. I'm a senior at Tippecanoe High School. You brought up the amount like how the internet has come to play and how people perceived your book and stuff. And the way we consume media and the digital age has also affected the way we perceive war. How do you think Billy Lynn represents that?

Ben Fountain: You know, I mean, in so many ways, war has never been more available to civilians. And that really started with the Vietnam War. And you could see it on your TV at night, on the news. I mean, images of live combat and people fighting and dying. And at first, I think there was the notion of war. Now that people see how horrible war is, maybe war will stop. But now we're 50 years on from that. And obviously wars haven't stopped. And now you can go on the internet and see, you know, just the most graphic, horrific images. I think a war doesn't really become real to people unless and until someone they love where they themselves are involved in war. I think oddly, love is what it takes to make war real.

Isa Ramos: Billy compares the expandability of sex workers to soldiers. What was the intention of the metaphor?

Ben Foutain: The human meat market. I mean, bodies. You know, young people, you know, selling or renting their bodies out to make money. I mean, I got I've gotten to know a young couple over the years. And when they were in college, in order to get through college without debt, he decided, I've got to join the military, you know, in order for her to get through college without debt. She became a stripper. And I mean, those are both fine things, if that's what you want to do, if that's what your heart and soul called you to do. But for that to be the choice given to young people in this society: either you have to go into tremendous amount of debt to get your education or you sell your body out on the market, you know, for whatever price, for whatever reason. I think that's a terrible choice for young people to have to make. And and so, I mean, yeah, we are flesh and blood, but we're also heart and soul and mind. And and for us to have to, you know, do that with our bodies to make our way in life. I think this society can do a lot better than that.

Madison Featherstone: Hi, I'm Madison Featherstone, a junior at Tippecanoe High School, and I'm here with Andrew Krivak, the author of The Sojourn. What lessons did you want the reader to take away from The Sojourn, since it's from the viewpoint of a soldier fighting for a country other than America.

Ben Fountain: Didn't really think about lessons taken away? I feel like the novel you write is the best possible thing you can write. And if you're lucky enough and if if there's enough depth and complexity to the characters and to the to the story, You know, Aristotle says in the poetics, stories first and character secondary, it's all about the beginning, the middle and the end. And I think about that too, editor early on. Some of the best advice he ever gave to me was everyone has a subject. The question is what's the story? And so to me, if if I was loyal to that story, then the lessons themselves would then become particularly they would fire on different levels for whomever was was reading that story. And I think that's the way it ought to be.

Francesca Neilson: I'm Francesca Neilson and I'm a senior at Tippecanoe high school. So how much of this story is based on your grandfather's own experiences?

Andrew Krivak: So there are kernels of nonfiction in the novel. The opening scene where the baby is thrown into the trestles is a true story, happened to my great uncle Joe. Great grandmother was on it, took a boy out for a walk and her own baby boy who was just born maybe six months prior onto the trestle. And when a train was coming, she tried to walk back and get away from the train, the oncoming train, and the boy got his foot caught in the rails and she tried to get him loose. She couldn't do it. And this is all documented in the Pueblo Star Journal, I believe, 1903. And she knew it was not going to go well. She wrapped her baby boy in his blanket tight, and she saw some swimmers down below and she dropped him into the water. A boy, a swimmer by the name of Roy Palmer, saw the baby fly into the water and he swam out and rescued my great uncle Joe. My great grandfather, Andre, after whom I'm named—he took his daughters his baby boy, and he moved back to the village of Vito's in Old Austria-Hungary, which is now Eastern Slovakia. And you can visit. I have. And so that's real. That's I've heard I heard about that all my life. And the fact that Joseph Finnish was captured as a rifleman on the river by Italians and English soldiers sent to Sardinia as a prisoner of war. And that's it. Pretty much the research that went into the the troop movements and Joseph in his own movements within the novel is entirely my own tracking, where I wanted Joseph to go, and then going to the War Museum in London and looking at how the Austrian Llanfair moved, what they took, the material and their photographs of that and days. I would just sit there and absorb that panorama that the archival footage, which became a kind of story in itself for me and just let it sink in so that I was seeing that as I moved fictionally through those, along those paths.

Those were excerpts from an interview with Dayton Literary Peace Prize writers Ben Fountain and Andrew Craddock. During their visit to Date and Youth Radio. They were interviewed by Jack Wyant, S.R. Amos, Francesca Nielsen and Madison Featherstone. You can find links to the author's books here at wyso.org for Dayton Youth Radio.