The author of ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ on her meticulous research and interview process.
How did you first come across the story of Henrietta Lacks? Did you immediately see a book in it, feel a “click” moment?I first learned about Henrietta Lacks and her amazing cells when I was 16 in a basic biology class at the local community college (a class I was taking because I’d failed biology at the local high school and I was trying to make up the credits to graduate). At that point I was planning to be a veterinarian, so I didn’t immediately think, Ah! I’m going to write a book about Henrietta! So a “click” definitely happened in that moment that changed my life, but it wasn’t a moment that made me realize I wanted to be a writer, and that I wanted to write about Henrietta.
‘I never outline, I never plot,’ says Ron Rash, the author of the new story collection ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay.’ ‘I almost always start with an image.’
Where do you live and why?I live in Cullowhee, North Carolina. That’s where I teach, at Western Carolina University. That region is where my family has lived for a long time and that region is my landscape.You’ve often been described as an “Appalachian writer.” Is that a geographic or stylistic title, or a little of both?I have mixed feelings about any adjective in front of the word “writer.” Chekhov has talked about this, that any designation besides writer (Russian writer, whatever) was a diminishment.
The National Book Award finalist talks about his hometown and reading to people who don’t speak English.
You live in Spokane, Washington. It seems rare and special these days that someone should live in the hometown they grew up in. Hmm. That doesn’t sound entirely like a compliment. (It’s so rare to meet a writer who still lives in his parents’ basement.) The four-second biography: I grew up in a blue collar family, screwed around in school, became a dad at 19, went to work for a newspaper to support my daughter and, by the time I could afford to leave Spokane, had more kids and had realized two things: 1) this might be the most underrated city in America; and 2) it’s where I’m from.
The author of the new book ‘How to Not Write Bad’ talks about how to avoid common grammatical errors.
What’s your morning routine like?If it’s a teaching day, I get in the car first thing and drive 29 miles to Newark, Delaware, home of my employer, the University of Delaware. If not, I shamble to my third-floor office and stew in my own juices till I manage to accomplish something, even if it’s only a Facebook post ranting about a bad movie I saw the previous night. I try to go from that to something less negligible, and so on up the line.What is a distinctive habit or affectation of yours?Affected, moi? For some reason, the thing that comes to mind is that I’m fanatical about using the word “farther” (instead of “further”) for anything that connotes distance, even metaphorical, e.
The ‘Swamplandia!’ novelist picks her favorite short story from her new collection, ‘Vampires in the Lemon Grove.’
You had an unusual debut—your first novel, Swamplandia!, was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and, by most accounts, should have won. I’m wondering how having such a successful debut affected your approach to your next book? The timing was so funny on that. The stories in this new book had been in the works for awhile. I think half of them had been published while I was still lost in the swamps of Swamplandia! The other half were written afterwards.
The Albanian novelist, whose new book is ‘The Fall of the Stone City,’ talks about his choice of weapon in the fight against totalitarianism and how he came to publish his first book.
Where did you grow up?In a medieval village in southern Albania.Where do you live and why?I divide my life between Tirana and Paris.You won the inaugural Man Booker Prize, in 2005. How did winning that prize affect your career? Was it particularly meaningful to win the inaugural year of the prize?That was one of the most important prizes in my life as a writer.You have been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Very few writers will ever have that experience.
The author of ‘Artful,’ an intoxicating mixture of lecture and ghost story, talks about what makes her cry and the places that inspire her.
Where did you grow up? In Inverness, Scotland, in a small house in a street parallel to the Caledonian Canal.You are a member of the Royal Society of Literature. What does membership entail? Are there robes and fireside chats with goblets of sherry, that sort of thing? No, ha, nothing quite so effete. It's a body of people which organizes exciting events about books and schools of thought in national and international literatures, digs up funding from under unexpected stones, and acts as a focal communal body for people working in or interested in literature—important for people in a job that is by nature solitudinous.
The author a recent must-read New Yorker story talks about why a couple chose to leave in the middle of his book talk.
Where did you grow up? Washington, DC, just a few blocks from Politics and Prose bookstore.Where and what did you study? I majored in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale.Your brother is also a popular writer. Was writing a self-evident career early on in both your lives? Certainly not in mine. Writing happens to be a good vehicle for my interests at the moment, but I often fantasize about doing something else.Where do you live and why? I live in New Haven, Connecticut.
Will Self’s ‘Umbrella’ was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and finally out in America. The fiercely experimental writer tells us about some of his favorite vices.
Where did you grow up? In the hinterland between a dull North London suburb called East Finchley and a rather tonier one called the Hampstead Garden Suburb. I also had a year in Ithaca, upstate New York.Where do you live and why? I live in Stockwell, a rather edgier inner-city district of South London. Why? Because it’s central—I can walk to the West End or Soho in 40 minutes. And also because it was the most house we could get for our money—we have four children.
Children’s-book authors Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown, the team behind ‘The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story,’ tell us about the zine they started and how they inspire each other.
Lisa Brown has written and illustrated books for readers of all ages, from toddler on up—her latest is Picture the Dead with Adele Griffin. Her husband, Daniel Handler, is better known as Lemony Snicket, whose series of unfortunate events was made into a film.Where did you grow up?Lisa Brown: In a suburb of Hartford, Conn. My family were refugees from Long Island, N.Y.Daniel Handler: San Francisco.What did you study?LB: I studied history, literature, and philosophy at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
The author of ‘Super Sad True Love Story’ talks about why he writes so many book blurbs.
People don’t tend to think of funny when they think of Russian authors. Gogol had a wonderfully dark sense of humor, but he’s technically Ukrainian …No, Russians are funny. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one.Can you define what you find funny?Whatever makes me cry.Where and what did you study?The Stuyvesant High School for Shy Nerds, The Oberlin Academy for Self-Expression, and Huntah College for Everybody.What do you look for in a good opening line/page/chapter?I like to read in English or, barring that, in Russian.
The famed neurologist and author of the new book ‘Hallucinations’ talks about how ideas come to him in the water.
Please recommend a book that makes science accessible to trade readers, and that has influenced your own work.One book that was very influential for me was published in English in 1968, and it’s called The Mind of a Mnemonist, by A. R. Luria. When I started to read the book, I thought it was a novel. Then after a few pages I realized it was a case history, the most detailed I ever read, but so beautifully written, and so full of feeling and pathos and characterization and richness … For me, that combined science and art ideally.
The author of ‘The Round House,’ the newly crowned National Book Award fiction winner, talks about her new prize and the setting of her novel.
Congratulations on winning the National Book Award. How did the news that you had won it reach you, and what were your first thoughts?This was the third time I was nominated for the award, but many writers have been nominated a few times without winning. I was nervous, popping Tums and straining to appear collected. I had no first thoughts because, to my surprise, when my book’s name was called I was mindlessly jumping up and down.You’ve won awards in the past.
The ‘Poisonwood Bible’ author, whose new novel is ‘Flight Behavior,’ wakes up to sentences pouring into her head—she never has a problem forcing herself to write.
Do you know the origins of your evocative surname?I do. At least, I know the stories, there are several. It is probably a corruption of Gonsalvez, a common Portuguese surname. When it got to Virginia it turned into Consolver, then it quickly became corrupted into Kinsolving, Kingsolver, and other variations. We’re all pretty closely related. When you go back six or seven generations, people of my ancestors’ station in life hardly ever wrote their names, so it didn’t much matter how it was spelled.
The celebrated literary stylist of ‘Alibis,’ a collection of essays on the many places he’s known, talks about the cities he loves and why writing is like roulette.
You grew up in several exotic cities. Could you offer up a sight, scent, and taste that you associate with each of them?Alexandria: The sea. Basil, cucumber, mangoes, the cooing of turtledoves on torrid afternoons, the screech of buses coming to a sudden halt. The sea, again, of course.Rome: Campo Marzio. The distant sound of a hammer pounding something during the intensely quiet hours of the afternoon, highlighting the silence even more.Paris: The smell of the old metro stirring thoughts of romance.
Every week, we interview writers about their daily routine and where they keep their desks.
A new novel captures the anguish and emotional turmoil of a mother’s relationship with her Navy SEAL son. Matt Gallagher salutes Lea Carpenter’s “Eleven Days” and says it joins the first rank of war fiction.
Featuring Avery Corman, Patricia Bosworth, Michael Chabon, Jean Halberstam, and others. From Open Road Integrated Media.