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“I deal with confusion and pain by turning it into art”

Interview with Hungarian writer, poet and lyricist Fanni Sütő


Fanni Sütő’s favourite genres are the ones where reality and imagination intertwine; she enjoys the magic of the everyday and the secrets hiding in city streets. And when life is throwing challenges and difficulties her way, she harnesses them into her creative processes.


“I went through a very difficult period this year and I often deal with confusion and pain through turning it into art,” the Hungarian writer, poet and lyricist said ahead of her appearance at the 6th EU-China International Literary Festival.


Since early 2020 she has been working in collaboration with producer Girl in the Mirror as a lyricist. They debuted their music and poetry performance entitled Papillionidae in September with great success. This poetry musical talks about the journey of a young woman falling into and out of love and how she learns to redefine herself.


“Music is something special for me, it helps me to deal with the world. But sadly I have no musical talent that’s why teaming up with Girl in the Mirror was like a miracle. Her music adds extra layers of meaning to my texts,” she says.


“Songs are more immediate than short stories or novels and the melody helps to convey the message even to those who don’t speak the language. Short stories and novels build a world and focus on characters and their journeys, songs express more the feelings of a very intense moment.”


Citizen of the world
Sütő, a Hungarian who teaches English and lives in Paris, studied Chinese and Japanese in university as part of her East Asian Culture degree. Being multilingual and living in a multicultural environment has had a positive influence on her creativity, she feels.


“I have always been fascinated by different cultures because I love to see how people can see the world in a thousand ways. I’m a very curious person and I enjoy learning from others. East Asia has a special place in my heart and I try my best to discover more about the region even with my university studies over,” she said.


“I think learning Chinese and Japanese gave me a new sense of language, both being very different from the languages I had learnt before. For my university studies I read Chinese classics like Water Margin or Rickshaw Boy. They were very different from the Western novels I had read and I was very excited to get to know these different narrative styles.”


Folk and fairy tales
Her short story Death’s Daughter, which claimed top place in a writing competition and was then published by Selcouth Station, focuses on a mother and daughter relationship and introduces fairy tale elements to the narrative.


Death’s Daughter is about a little girl who finds out her mother is actually death herself. Yet it is not a scary tale – it is more sad and bittersweet. I wanted to create four fairy tales for a novel I was working on. I enjoy writing about storytelling – I think the stories we tell show a lot about who we are,” she said.


“I also work as a storyteller with Hungarian children living in France and I know how folk and fairy tales form part of our identity and pass on wisdom. There are many tales that have versions all over the world – to me it shows that we, humans share universal dreams and worries. I like working with fairy tales because they can bring a magical element even to an otherwise realistic story.”


Turning life into art
Sütő has recently released a poetry collection that centres on a complicated love affair between a female painter and her employer, called Shells of Ourselves, and again she has used life experiences as key material.


“I’m very interested in the idea of turning one’s life into art – something I try to do myself. Writing about a painter allowed me to do that. As children when we find seashells on the beach we like to imagine a story behind them: where did they come from, how did they wash up on this shore? We are always in a quest to interpret the past. The poems in the collection are like those shells,” she said.


She also imagined these poems to be like paintings, snapshots from a relationship that concentrate on the pivotal moments.


“What I like in poetry is that – since it is a short form – words have a bigger weight. I also love that it leaves a lot of blank spaces that the reader needs to fill in, they need to read between the lines.”