The Polish-born writer, whose new novel is ‘Memories of a Marriage,’ talks about WWII and what he thought of the movie version of ‘About Schmidt.’
Where did you grow up?I was born in 1933 in a town called Stryj in the eastern part of Poland which is now Ukraine, and lived there until I was 7 and a half. During the rest of WWII, and until the fall of 1946, I lived successively in Lwów, Warsaw, and Kraków, with a spell between Warsaw and Kraków in the Mazowsze, a remote Polish countryside. My first novel, Wartime Lies, draws on memories of my life in that period. In March 1947, I arrived with my parents in New York City and did the rest of my “growing up” there.
The Dominican-American writer on the genesis of Oscar Wao, and why he wrote a book listening to the ‘Conan the Barbarian’ soundtrack on a loop. His latest short-story collection, ‘This Is How You Lose Her,’ which was a National Book Award finalist, is out in paperback next month.
Where did you grow up?I grew up first in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, until I was 6 years old. Then from 6 to 18 in Parlin, New Jersey.Where do you live and why?I live half the time in Harlem, New York, and half in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I live in New York because it’s become my home and in Massachusetts because I have a job at MIT. In both places I have a strong Dominican community, and that’s important to me—it keeps me more or less whole.
The biographer, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning book ‘The Black Count’ is now out in paperback, talks about growing up in Little Vienna, listening to a Billy Joel song hundreds of times, and being an extreme night owl.
Where did you grow up?I spent my first four years in Washington Heights, at the top of Manhattan, when it was still a neighborhood filled with German-speaking Jewish refugees from the Nazis. We lived between my grandmother Honora’s apartment, a one-bedroom art deco stuffed with formal dark wood furniture shipped from Mannheim, Germany, and my great uncle Lolek and great aunt Gerda’s apartment, a slice of pre-war Vienna beneath the George Washington Bridge.
The novelist and short story writer Charles Baxter explains what makes a good writing day, the dark experiences from the book tour trail, and why he’s scared of spilling salt. By Noah Charney.
Where did you grow up?In Minneapolis, Minnesota, and outside of it, on 40 acres of half-hearted farmland outside of Excelsior, Minnesota.Where and what did you study?I received a B.A. from Macalester College and a Ph.D. in English at the State University of New York at Buffalo. I took many English courses, some history and philosophy classes, but not enough classes in foreign languages and literatures; that was one of my bigger mistakes. It was common among my generation.
The literary journalist and critic, whose first novel ‘Necessary Errors’ is out now, talks about his fiction debut, the success of n+1, and why people write for academia.
What is the story behind the publication of your first book?I’ve had a few first books. On the very first one, I was just the translator. It was a 1993 campaign biography of the Czech dissident-turned-president Václav Havel, by Eda Kriseová. In 2001 I published American Sympathy, a scholarly book about friendship between men in early American literature. And now, at age 46, I’m getting around to publishing Necessary Errors.I suppose the story behind the novel is that I always wanted to write novels, and in the basement I have a box or two of unpublishable manuscripts to prove it.
Philippa Gregory, whose series of novels based on the Wars of the Roses has been adapted into the BBC television drama ‘The White Queen,’ which will premiere in the U.S. next month, talks about her approach to historical fiction and what she knows about screenwriting.
The White Queen has recently appeared as a television series. Tell me about how that particular book was chosen and what the process of preparing the script for the series was like for you.Well, a number of producers came to me wanting to do television or a film based on The White Queen. After talking a lot about it, what emerged is that I wanted to a series based on the three books: The White Queen, The Red Queen, and The Kingmaker’s Daughter.
The Princeton history professor talks about founding a new field of study, his crocodile in his office, and student humor.
You’ve helped to found a new field of study, the history of reading. How did that come about?Sure. The history of reading is a Princeton specialty in its origins. Much of the credit goes back to Robert Darnton, my wonderful colleague. In the ’70s and ’80s he was redefining the field of the history of books by looking at the history of this wonderful 18th-century Swiss publishing house, Société Typographique de Neuchâtel. He wrote a series of books and articles that transformed the way we thought about the history of publishing, making it far richer and more human, connecting it to the history of literature.
The Israeli author, whose debut novel, ‘The People of Forever Are Not Afraid,’ is out in paperback, talks about serving in the Israel Defense Forces, her favorite Israeli authors, and failing to run into Justin Bieber.
Where did you grow up?Kfar Vradim, Israel. I also lived briefly in Ma’alot-Tarshiha as a child, and I was actually born in Jerusalem, but almost all of the growing up I can remember doing I did in Kfar Vradim.You served in the Israel Defense Forces. For Americans today, the idea of serving in the military is either a professional choice or something most would dread. Israel still has mandatory service. What was your view of being a soldier prior to your time in the army, and has it changed since then?I would like to question your assumption that for Americans today, the idea of serving in the military is a professional choice or something most would dread.
Novelist and screenwriter Jonathan Tropper talks about Jason Bateman and Tina Fey starring in the film adaptation of his book ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ and writing the script for his new book, ‘One Last Thing Before I Go.’
Tell me about how This Is Where I Leave You became a movie. What was your initial reaction when the rights were acquired?When I finished writing the novel and my agents wanted to shop it to studios, I told them I thought it was the best novel I’d written, but no one was going to option a novel about a family sitting shivah. To further complicate things, I insisted on attaching myself as the screenwriter. And, to my great surprise, Warner Brothers optioned it, this despite the very clear absence of superheroes in the book.
The author of the new novel ‘Sisterland’ talks about neurotic protagonists, writer’s block, and Judy Blume.
You write magazine articles as well as novels. Does your approach differ depending on the format? Does one come more easily to you than others?The gratification is faster with articles, because potentially you can write them in a day or a few days. And doing reporting for articles involves going out into the world, whereas for me writing fiction mostly involves retreating into my own head. I like both, although I have to be very selective about what articles I write because of time constraints, and because writing fiction is easier if you’re doing it every day than if you’re frequently interrupting yourself.
Why does Sheila Heti put books she doesn’t like on her bottom shelf? What’s The Believer like? Why shouldn’t young writers listen to advice? The author of ‘How Should a Person Be?,’ out in paperback next week, answers those questions and more.
You live in Toronto, which I’ve heard is a great literary city. What do you like about it?It’s a good place, I’ve lived here all my life. I’m not so involved in the literary scene these days, more the art scene in general. It’s a good place to be an artist, because people intersect a lot: writers, artists, musicians. It’s stimulating in that way. I find it a quiet place, an easy place to be in your head and go at whatever speed you like. You can feel like you’re interacting with the world, but also feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, even in the city.
The Chinese author Ma Jian, whose new novel is ‘The Dark Road,’ talks about angering the communist authorities, being banished, and how he became a writer.
Where do you live?I moved to London 12 years ago, to live with [my partner and translator] Flora Drew, whom I met in Hong Kong on the night of the  handover. Until recently, I would spend many months of every year in Beijing. For the last two years, however, I’ve been refused entry into China, so I am now a genuine exile. London used to be a refuge I returned to, in order to write in freedom. Now, it has become a place of banishment.If you can imagine a world in which the Cultural Revolution had not taken place in China, do you think that you would still have become a painter and a writer?The Cultural Revolution was not the only calamity to convulse the China of my youth—there was also the Anti-Rightist Movement and the Great Famine.
The author of the new allegorical werewolf novel ‘Red Moon’ talks about his abysmally low voice and bumping into Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch, and LeBron James.
Where did you grow up?I grew up in western Oregon, just outside Eugene, on 27 wooded acres that served as my playground. My parents, for a time, were back-to-the-landers. We had a vast vegetable garden, fruit trees, a henhouse, and my father would hunt most of our meat: venison, elk, bear. We moved for a time to Hawaii and then returned to Oregon, this time to the other side of the mountains, the sage flats of eastern Oregon.Where do you live and why?I live now in Minnesota, on four forested acres near the town of Northfield, outside the Twin Cities.
The author of ‘Drop Dead Healthy’ talks about how he writes on a treadmill, what fictional character he identifies with, and why he likes the elbow bump.
Where did you grow up?In a New York City apartment with my parents, a cat, a sister, and an Atari. Where and what did you study?I went to Brown University, where I specialized in introductory courses (history, anthropology, economics, biology, psychology, literature, Spanish, and a couple of dozen others). If I could have majored in intro classes, I would have. I wish I lived in the 19th century, where you didn’t have to specialize. You could be a generalist—a poet/mollusk scientist/seafarer/surgeon.
The Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who took on the Church of Scientology in his most recent book, ‘Going Clear,’ talks about the latest threats from the organization, the wild story of how he got hired by The New Yorker, and the special writing desk that he built himself.
Where do you live and why?I live in Austin, Texas. I came in 1980 to work for Texas Monthly, but I only lasted on the staff for six months. I just never left. Austin has a kind of specific gravity that’s hard to escape once you’re here. It has a congenial, collaborative arts community. I think that’s why I’m still here.Describe your morning routine.I wake early. I like the fact that the house is quiet then. I make my coffee and read the paper.
Every week, we interview writers about their daily routine and where they keep their desks.
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