Making it in New York: writer and student Kalle Oskari Mattila

New York: a writer in New York
Way to go! New York © JLO

What is your dream job?  Chocolate taster?  F1 racing driver?  Lego designer?  Not according to a YouGov poll: their findings conclude that the most desired job is to be a writer.

Kalle Oskari Mattila completed the BSc International Management (China) course at SOAS before enrolling on the MFA non-fiction writing programme at Columbia University in New York.  In between studies, Kalle works as a writer, and has had his articles published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Monocle magazine.

When did you first want to be a writer?  

“I started pitching my stories to newspaper editors when I was 12 years old.  At 13, I got my first travel piece published in Finland’s largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. Then I became a TV critic for that same paper when I was 15.  So, writing has always been a part of my life and something I’ve really enjoyed.”

A perennial query levelled at creative writing courses: can creative writing be taught, or is it something you are born with?

“I think MFA programs offer students many advantages that are hard to come by elsewhere, or while working: the time to write, the deadlines and support needed to get that writing done, and the initial audience to read and critique the work.  Our professors often say it’s a way for students to learn the skills that might otherwise take them ten years to figure out on their own.  I think that’s right.  I would not be where I am now without my MFA and it’s really given me a lot.”

What drew you to SOAS and how did you enjoy the course?

“I loved the diversity of SOAS and I think it’s still unparalleled anywhere else in academia.  What I really enjoyed about my course was how interdisciplinary and global it was: in a typical week, I would do everything from international marketing to African literature to statistical analysis.”

“SOAS teaches one to think in unconventional and often countercultural ways: I think that’s crucial to generating fresh and interesting ideas.”

“Kai Easton’s seminar on Fictions of History was the absolute highlight of my time there.  I would heartily recommend a class with her to any and all students.”

Why New York?

“In between London and New York, I actually lived in Berlin.  I adored it as a city, but it also felt like too laid-back a place to be a writer.  I like the ambition of New York.  It drives you to do your best work.  There’s a certain energy here that I don’t think exists elsewhere; a creative drive.  People still introduce themselves as actors and writers and musicians, even though their day jobs are actually waiting tables or working in an office.”

“The creative class and the belief in making it are both alive here.”

What inspires you to write: specific themes; social issues; pure compulsion?

 “I think I’m ultimately trying to make sense of the complex, globalised world we’ve found ourselves in.  That’s why I write nonfiction.  I like the plurality of the form: how it encompasses everything from travel writing to journalism to criticism to personal essay.  I often write about identity, LGBTQ rights, and branding, and how those things intersect in things like technology and the arts and global affairs.  It’s important to me that my work results in positive change.”

Where would you like your writing career to take you? 

“I would love to be able to keep writing about things that matter to me.  Right now, I’m finalising a memoir I’ve been working on for ten years – I’m excited to see it through to the final product.  Once I finish my studies at Columbia, I hope to stay in New York and go into journalism and teaching.”

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