Universiteit Leiden

nl en

From catwalk to book gala

Sander Kok (35) was a hit as a model for Armani and he is now making a name for himself as a writer. His philosophically tinted first novel 'Smeltende vrouw' was acclaimed as a literary sensation. How do Literature Studies and Art History benefit him today?

Why did you opt to study Art History and Literature Studies?

‘Art and literature were important topics in our family. We often went to museums and my parents encouraged us to read good books. I chose Leiden because my brother was already studying here, and he came home every weekend with so many great stories about Leiden. I visited him occasionally in his student house and thought it was fantastic. To give us some privacy, once I was in Leiden I joined Augustinus, not Quintus where my brother was a member.' 

Did you enjoy your studies?

‘Art History gave me a lot and taught me many useful skills. It made me look more closely at things, and not just art. There were times when I did have the feeling that an aesthetic opinion from the lecturers was missing. For modern artists, it was all about what they intended to achieve, but there was little or no discussion of whether or not they achieved what they wanted. After three years I was ready for something different, so I went to Buenos Aires for a year to study Spanish. Back in Leiden I switched to Literature Studies, which was a better match for me. Straight away I learned not to focus on the writer's motives. We mainly looked at what the text does in the here and now.' 

Sander Kok worked as a photo model even during his student years. In this photo he is just 19.

Does Literature Studies help you as a writer, or can it also be something of a straitjacket?

‘I can't say whether I would write differently if I hadn't studied the subject, but I do believe that every hour studying literature is worthwhile. Added to that, four thousand years of literature can be a bit overwhelming. There's nothing left for you to add. Everything has already been written and better than you as a  novice writer can come up with. I've hardly ever thought "I can do that better", except maybe with Pirandello, who, in my opinion, is a bit over-rated. What the programme mostly gave me was an even greater love of literature.' 

Until recently, you were mainly known for your modelling work. How did you become a model?  

‘When I was fifteen, I was on a school trip to London and I was approached by a scout from a model agency. My parents thought it was a bad idea, though, to move to London on your own when you're only fifteen. After that I was asked occasionally, but I was quite shy as a teenager. And I wasn't at all photogenic. When I was 23, I was approached by a scout again, this time in Amsterdam. My girlfriend at the time encouraged me to give it a go. A few days later I had my first modelling job and less than a month later I was working in Milan for Armani. Luckily, I was able to combine it with my studies. My lecturers thought it was great and helped me work around my modelling assignments. A couple of times I was able to do an exam late in the evening in Milan and send it in by mail after I'd been on the catwalk the whole day for Fashion Week.’

Modelling and writing: are they a good combination?

‘I travel a lot for my modelling work. That can be a bit lonely and so, out of boredom, I started writing, in my hotel room or during castings. It sounds a bit blasé, but after a few years I had already done the important jobs (for Armani, Viktor & Rolf and adverts for companies like Lacoste and Samsung, red.) so there were no really big, new ambitions left. At the same time, I became more ambitious as a writer. Right now, the most important thing in my life is my second novel.'  

Do you put your emotions from your student years into your stories?

‘Sos far, no, but who knows what might find its way into my novels later, from my diaries. That's where I describe my laziness, my inability to get going.  I was an exceptionally lazy student. In my first year, partying was all that mattered. One time, before an exam I  went out drinking with a few friends. I got home at six in the morning. The exam was a couple of hours later; I failed it because after ten minutes I had to go outside to be sick.  I was late in maturing; that didn't happen until I was around thirty. One more thing about that laziness: laziness leads to boredom, and eventually boredom makes you creative. If I hadn't been so bored, maybe I'd never have been able to write.' 

Who: Sander Kok
Studied: Art History (didn't graduate) and Literature Studies
Student club: Augustinus
Favourite spot in Leiden: 'I used to live in the last house at Hogewoerd. My favourite 'spot' is the part from the end of Hogewoerd to the centre, and particularly the Burcht, once the sun has set. A few months ago, I was back in Leiden for the first time. It was evening and the whole place was bathed in the golden glow of nostalgia, the Burcht maybe more than anywhere else. I love Amsterdam but I can't say I'll never come back to Leiden, even if only for a short time.' 

(LvP)