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Wiley's Latest Novel Explores the Moments Before and After Rape

The book shifts between the perpetrator and the victim and between the aftermath and the years leading to the rape in Nigeria.
Arts & Culture  |  Jan 6, 2014  |  By Diane Russell
UNLV professor and author Richard Wiley speaks during his Black Mountain Institute reading September 24, 2013 in Greenspun Hall. (Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services)

The latest novel from PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author Richard Wiley begins with a rape, then alternates chapters between the rapist and the victim.

In The Book of Important Moments (Dzanc Books, 2013), we first go back to meet the rapist during his childhood. The victim is followed from the time of the rape until a decade later -- when the two meet again.

"My intent was to make a scene where there's no possibility on the part of the reader to place blame anywhere but where it belongs -- on the rapist --and then undo it a little bit by going back to when he was 6," said Wiley, a longtime UNLV faculty member and associate director of the university's Black Mountain Institute.

As in the case of Wiley's previous books -- Soldiers in Hiding (winner of the PEN Faulkner Award), Fools' Gold, Festival for Three Thousand Maidens, Indigo, Ahmed's Revenge, and Commodore Perry's Minstrel Show -- his latest novel makes use of a foreign setting. This time, it's Nigeria.

Wiley long has been interested in foreign locales. His first overseas adventure came as a Peace Corps volunteer in Korea in the late 1960s. Since then he has lived in Japan, Kenya, and Nigeria for as long as three years at a time.

The perspective that living in another country provides a writer is invaluable, according to Wiley.

That view is shared by others in UNLV's well-regarded MFA in creative writing program; its students are required to live abroad as part of their studies.

"We want the young writers coming out of here to become aware of what we are aware of -- the value of knowing how reality looks in other places, not just here," he said.

UNLV's creative writing program was the first to make living abroad a degree requirement and, as far as Wiley knows, still is unique in that regard.

The three-year MFA program accepts only about 4 percent of its applicants. In existence as a degree program for about 15 years, it now has more than 150 graduates. Acceptance into the Ph.D. program is even more difficult. Two students are accepted each year -- one in fiction and one in poetry.

The life of a writer isn't for everyone, Wiley pointed out.

"It's the hardest thing in the world. It's haaaard," he said. "With most jobs you can get away with a little bit, but with writing, if you try to get away with anything, it shows. Writing only responds to rigor.

"I write every morning starting at 6 or 6:30 and keep writing until it's time to come to the university or until I run out of steam," he said. "The important thing is the 'every day' part. You have to have a real workman-like ethic."

How long does it take to write a novel?

"I've done a book in less than two years and I've written a book in a decade," he responded. "Two years is like a 100-meter dash. I cannot write well and also write fast."

Wiley said that except when giving a public reading, he doesn't read his books once they're in print.

"I don't look back at them. I most especially don't want to read them," he said, explaining that if he does, he will want to rewrite them.

Public readings, on the other hand, offer the interaction with the audience. "It's fun to answer the questions if the questions are thoughtful."