By Alex Brantly
On Thursday, September 13, author Natalie Bakopolous visited Grinnell College for a reading as a part of the Writers@Grinnell program. Bakopoulos’ debut novel, The Green Shore, was released in June and traces the lives of four characters swept up in the coup d’etat that placed Greece under a military junta known as “The Regime of the Colonels.”
Bakopolous teaches at the University of Michigan, but has ties to Grinnell through her brother, Dean Bakopoulos, who teaches in the English department here.
In an email exchange, Natalie Bakopolous wrote that the underlying themes of the novel are particularly applicable to Grinnell and its proud history of social activism, but that the novel features other themes in addition.
“It is also a love story and a story of family. So my hope, as a writer, is that readers will enjoy the book because they become emotionally engaged with the story and characters and themes,” Bakopolous said.
Bakopoulos cites her inspiration to write coming from all around her. She draws from previous experience and from her love of Greece.
“My father once told me the story of broadcasting a radio station from his basement in Halandri, which is a suburb of Athens … And while the radio now is just a small part of the book, the story was rooted in that image,” Bakopolous said.
This intersection of liminal spaces was an idea that she found fascinating throughout the writing process.
Bakopoulos said that she considers the names of her characters at a practical level in the sense that they have to reflect the personality—the underlying meaning of the name comes as an afterthought.
“Sophia, for example, means ‘wisdom.’ But is she the wisest character? I’m not sure. But she does struggle between wisdom and passion,” Bakopoulos said.
Despite her evident love for writing, Bakopoulos still struggles, like everyone, with the creative process.
“What do I enjoy most? The moment in the evening when I walk away from the computer and open a beer!” Bakopoulos said. “No, seriously though, there are times it feels very painful, I really do enjoy the process of writing—crafting the language, creating the characters, shaping the story.”
Although Bakopoulos noted that the creative process can be painful, she also emphasized the fact that she enjoys the process of writing, and the feeling of “inhabit[ing] a world you’ve created.” She noted specifically the intensity of novel writing, and the emotionally draining effect that it can have, but that the very same element can be attributed to the wonder of the art.
Despite the publication of her first novel, Bakopoulos maintains strong motivation.
“I think once you start thinking of yourself as successful you lose the hunger you need to keep making art, to do the next thing,” Bakopoulos said.
Expanding on the theme, Bakopoulos provided her own recipe for successful writing.
“I think you need to have a healthy combination of self-doubt and self-confidence, to believe that you can write something better. You have to have vision beyond where you are, to take risks that might cause you to fail. You have to do the work, to take it seriously, but to not take yourself too seriously.”
In the future, Bakopoulos hopes to write a screenplay or the script for a television show, though she believes that she is best suited to novel writing.