Search Results for: interview

‘In a Marriage, You Grow Around Each Other’: An Interview with Tessa Hadley

Corbis Historical, HarperCollins

Sarah Boon | Longreads | January 2019 | 16 minutes (4,272 words)


Tessa Hadley is a late-bloomer in UK fiction, despite having wanted to be a writer since she was a child. “It chose me rather than me choosing it,” she says about writing. Hadley published her first novel at the age of 46. Since then, she’s been an unstoppable force, publishing five additional novels, two short story collections, and contributing regularly to The New Yorker. Her new novel, Late in the Day, delves into the institution of marriage, particularly long marriages. She explores how couples grow around each other, like trees, and how the sudden death of a partner can send life into a tailspin. Read more…

The Fault in Our Stars: On Fake Celebrity Interviews

Collage by Katie Kosma

Soraya Roberts | Longreads | November 2018 | 11 minutes (2,670 words)

“I play with my breasts, not to show off but to demonstrate a kind of revulsion. I simply transform myself into a voice for all the tormented souls of this world.”

That’s Courtney Love in 1996 in SZ, the magazine belonging to one of the largest newspapers in Germany, Süddeutsche Zeitung. It sounds a little crazy, but then, she’s a little crazy. And anyway, Tom Kummer, the Swiss journalist who attempted to style himself after Hunter S. Thompson, always filed outlandish exclusives and cover stories like this from Los Angeles — Pamela Anderson on her aching implants, Mike Tyson on eating cockroaches, Bruce Willis on immorality. From the mid-nineties to 2000, he was kind of a celebrity himself. Beloved by editors, he also wrote for the German magazines Der Spiegel and Stern and Switzerland’s Die Weltwoche. In fact, it was in the latter that, roughly two years before the Love interview, he wrote, funnily enough: “She plays with her breasts not to show off but to demonstrate revulsion. She wants to embody the voice of all tormented souls in the world.”

Tom Kummer had been flagged for fabrication before, but it wasn’t until an exposé in Focus magazine in 2000 that it was confirmed: he had never interviewed Love, or Brad Pitt or Sharon Stone or Kim Basinger, or anyone really. SZ followed with a breakdown of his deceit, like The New York Times would with Jayson Blair in 2003; it published an apology for the “falsified” stories and fired editors Christian Kämmerling and Ulf Poschardt. You would think Kummer would at least nod at contrition — like Janet Cooke in 1982, like Stephen Glass in 1998 — but he took the Jonah Lehrer route instead and talked boundaries. He even had a name for his approach: borderline journalism. “I wrote impressionistic, creative, literary descriptions of the life of stars in the form of so-called interviews,” he told The Guardian in 2011, adding, “Everybody loved my stuff and I guess they were addicted to some kind of illusion that stars should talk like I made them talk.” He claimed he was never asked for proof, that his editors had approved of his methods. As Stern’s publisher told the Times, they — Kummer and his editors — “appeared to have a different idea of journalism.” Read more…

‘I’ve Always Been Either Praised or Accused of Ambition’: An Interview with Barbara Kingsolver

Getty Images / HarperCollins Publishers


Sarah Boon | Longreads | October 2018 | 14 minutes (3,686 words)


Barbara Kingsolver’s first novel, The Bean Trees, was published in 1988, on the same day that her first daughter was born. Since then, Kingsolver has published eight more novels, two books of essays, a book of poetry, and three nonfiction books — including the popular Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about growing all of her family’s food on their farm. Her eighth and latest novel, Unsheltered, follows the parallel lives of characters in both 2016 and 1871 as they live and love in the same house at the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey.

Kingsolver has received numerous writing awards, including the James Beard Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Orange Prize for Fiction. She has also been shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize and a PEN/Faulkner Award. Kingsolver has also established The Bellwether Prize for Fiction, an award to support writers who cover topics around social change.

I spoke with Kingsolver three days after Hurricane Florence made landfall on the east coast of the US, and the same day Florence was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, though it continued to bombard the region with strong winds and heavy rain. Kingsolver noted that she lives in the mountainous region of Virginia, farther from the storm. She wasn’t too worried about the rain, but was concerned about her downstream neighbors who were likely to be inundated. It was a perfect play on the title of Unsheltered. Read more…

‘I Didn’t Have the Language to Call It Racism’: An Interview with Nicole Chung

Catapult Books / author photo by Erica B. Tappis

Victoria Namkung | Longreads | October 2018 | 11 minutes (3,020 words)

Since the early 1950s, parents in the United States have adopted more than a half-million children from other countries, with the vast majority of them coming from orphanages in Asia, South America, and, more recently, Africa. South Koreans are the largest group of transracial adoptees in the U.S., and by some estimates, make up 10 percent of the nation’s Korean American population.

Nicole Chung, however, was born prematurely and placed for adoption by her Korean immigrant parents in Seattle, and raised in a sheltered Oregon town five hours outside of Portland. Adopted by religious and loving white parents, she grew up as an only child who always felt a bit out of place. The narrative she was always told — that her biological parents made the ultimate sacrifice to give her a better life — comforted Chung as a child, but as she came of age, experiencing racism and finding her own identity as an Asian American and a writer, she began to question the “prepackaged myth” of her adoption. After getting married and becoming pregnant with her first child, a daughter, she went in search of her lost roots.

All You Can Ever Know, her memoir of this search, confronts the ways in which traditional adoption narratives rarely tell the whole story and shows how idealistic and well-intentioned white adoptive parents are often wildly unprepared for raising children of color in a society that is nowhere near the post-racial future of many Americans’ imaginations. She writes: “It feels like my duty as my white family’s de facto Asian ambassador to remind them that I am not white, that we do experience this country in different ways because of it, that many people still know oppression far more insidious and harmful than anything I’ve ever faced. Every time I do this, I am breaking the sacred pact of our family, our once-shared belief that my race is irrelevant in the presence of their love.”   Read more…

Falling in Love with Chicago at Night: An Interview with Jessica Hopper

University of Texas Press / Author photo by David Sampson

Ashley Naftule | Longreads | September 2018 | 9 minutes (2,464 words)

It takes a writer of considerable talent to gear-shift from meditations on mortality to goofy stoner daydreams (and not give the reader whiplash while she’s doing it). It’s a tonal trick Jessica Hopper pulls off over and over again in Night Moves, a poignant (and often hilarious) memoir of her time in Chicago in the early aughts. On one page, Hopper is solemnly reflecting, “You make peace with death’s swift manners and it raises you up”; on another, she’s wondering what it’d be like to run over a great poet with a dune buggy. Ruminations on aging, community, love, and friendships stand shoulder-to-shoulder with sharp, madcap anecdotes, like when a stranger at a nightclub says Hopper resembles “a kabuki donkey” on the dancefloor, or when a pair of socialites at a music festival are aghast at how she’s eating an apple directly off the core. The poetry and absurdity of existence are constant companions in the pages of Night Moves.

The veteran author’s easy grace with the written word comes as no surprise when you take her long career into account. Starting off as a D.I.Y. zine writer, Hopper quickly rose through the ranks to become a freelancer and contributor to publications like SPIN, Grand Royal, Rolling Stone, GQ, Punk Planet, and The Chicago Reader. She’s been an editor at Pitchfork, Rookie, MTV News, and the University of Texas Press. Her knack for juggling incisive cultural criticism with personal reflections and wry humor can be seen in her 2015 collection of music writing, The First Collection of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic.

While music comes up often in Night Moves (“Loving the Smiths is one thing, but loving Morrissey is another thing entirely,” Hopper writes), it’s a book that’s more concerned with what happens just outside of and right next to the rituals of listening to records and going to shows. It’s a book about long bike rides to venues, the sadness of watching friends get blitzed on cocaine at dance nights, the joys of holing up in an apartment and reading back issues of The New Yorker while the city freezes outside. Hopper’s book is a testament to the pleasures of bumming around, the ecstasy of slowing down and enjoying the neighborhood and your friends before career and family and all the other milestones of adulthood start accelerating your timeline. Read more…

An Interview with Sarah Smarsh, Author of ‘Heartland’

ImagineGolf / Getty

Angela Chen | Longreads | September 2018 | 14 minutes (3,488 words)

“I was born a fifth-generation Kansas farmer,” writes Sarah Smarsh, “roots so deep in the country where I was raised that I rode tractors on the same land where my ancestors rode wagons.”

In her memoir Heartland, Smarsh tells the story of four generations of that Kansas family. The book reaches back to a great-grandmother working multiple jobs and beaten by her husband, but is addressed to a future generation that will never be: Smarsh’s unborn daughter August.

Smarsh, the daughter of a teenage mother who is the daughter of a teenage mother, “was on a mission toward a life unlike the one I was handed.” August is a theoretical child born during Smarsh’s teenage years, whose very existence would have continued the line of teenage motherhood and derailed Smarsh’s mission. August is at once a guiding principle (“what would I tell my daughter to do?”) and a symbol of the poverty Smarsh worked to escape.

Heartland is the story of a family and the story of a class in America, an explanation to August of all she would have inherited and lost. I spoke to Smarsh by phone between New York and Kansas, where she lives. We discussed the invisibility of class, how “the country” has become a clichéd set of imagery, and how politicians on the left can reach alienated voters. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Read more…

People Sorting: An Interview With ‘Personality Brokers’ Author Merve Emre

Jessica Gross | Longreads | September 2018 | 23 minutes (5,900 words)

If you haven’t yet read Merve Emre’s writing on the history of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, you might assume that Myers and Briggs were men. In fact, as Emre documented first in a 2015 piece for Digg and with great depth in her new book The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing, the indicator was the brainchild of Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. Over the course of decades starting in the early twentieth century, and shaped by their interests in childrearing and the theories of Carl Jung—if not formal training in psychology—Katharine and Isabel created what has become one of our preeminent means of categorizing, and thus conceiving, people.

Though her writing ultimately accrues into a critique of the MBTI along several dimensions, including the way it upholds extant social, racial, and class inequalities and its perpetuation of insidious capitalistic values, Emre excavates the history of the indicator from its inception through its modern expression with tremendous rigor, nuance and, ultimately, empathy. It seems as important to her to honor these two women’s work as both inventors and mothers—as well as the profound meaning the MBTI can hold for people—as it is to examine the intent and effects of their creation. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Jennifer Szalai described the book as “history that reads like biography that reads like a novel — a fluid narrative that defies expectations and plays against type.”

Emre, an associate professor of English at Oxford University, has written prolifically for both academic and popular literary outlets. (Her first book, Paraliterary: The Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America, came out last year.) She is, in my estimation, one of the sharpest critics working today. But we first met long before she published her first piece—in fifth grade.

This past June, when I visited Emre in New Haven, where she was staying with her family before moving to the U.K., we spoke not only about the MBTI but also about our own history. Though we were friendly and moved in similar circles during our childhoods, we didn’t become close until our early twenties, by which point both of us had changed enough that we were able to become real friends. If the MBTI is predicated on the understanding that a person’s personality type never changes, how does one account for personal evolution?

* * *

Even though parts of your Digg piece are incorporated into this book, there’s a great tonal difference overall. The Digg piece is acerbic in a way that was kind of fun, so I assumed the book was going to be more of an outright critique. But it’s much more biographical than critical, and tonally much more subdued. Can you talk about that choice?

The Digg piece was sharper and a little bit snarkier, you’re right. Part of what that was registering was my frustration that I had gone to these great lengths to follow the directions of CAPT [the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, which holds the personal papers of founder Isabel Briggs Myers] in order to get access to their archives, and then they denied me access for no discernible reason or purpose. Or rather, the purpose was discernible, and it was that they wanted to protect this person’s image and they didn’t want anybody to write anything that might be even a little bit critical.

So the Digg piece was in some ways excavating those frustrations. But when you sit with any subject for long enough, certain nodes of sympathy begin to open up that you might not have anticipated.

Once I got access to Katharine’s papers, I saw that there was that there was a real struggle for her and for her daughter to figure out how to take what at times seemed to them like the banal and unpromising labor of motherhood and domestic care and transform that into something that they felt was self-actualizing, and self-actualizing in a very professional way. It’s hard for me not to feel sympathy for that. The more I sat with their materials, with their letters—the more I learned about their lives from primary sources—the less I wanted to write a straightforward critique. Or, I felt that I had written a straightforward critique for Digg, and that it had served its purpose.

For the book, I wanted something that would make a little bit more sense of why we continue to be drawn to an instrument like the MBTI even when I think many of us know that it’s not valid or reliable, that it’s a flat and unspecific understanding of human personality. It seemed to me that I couldn’t answer that question with critique alone—or that critique alone would only answer half of that question and leave the other half, which was about the human desire to know ourselves and to know our intimates, unanswered. Read more…

An Immoderate Novel for an Immoderate Season: An Interview with Olivia Laing

The great North American total eclipse of 2017. John Finney / Getty

Bridey Heing | Longreads | September 2018 | 10 minutes (2,761 words)


As a non-fiction writer, Olivia Laing has made a name for herself by writing deeply empathic explorations of creativity and the human condition. Her 2011 debut, To The River, situates the River Ouse, in North Yorkshire, within history and culture, from its role in 13th century battles to the death of Virginia Woolf. Her follow-up, 2013’s The Trip to Echo Spring, focused on American writers and alcoholism. Her 2015 book, The Lonely City, interrogated loneliness as a state of being and as a catalyst for art. But with her fiction debut, Laing has pulled back from the closely researched subjects that have been her wheelhouse; instead, she broadly documents a seven-week span of time. And yet her  penchant for research still peaks through — the narrative is written from the perspective of a fictionalized Kathy Acker-esque avatar, whose books Laing kept piled around her for inspiration while she wrote.

Crudo opens with the resignation of Steve Bannon, which Kathy, a soon-to-be newlywed, follows on social media from a Tuscan resort. Her attention ricochets between the rapidly unfolding news cycle playing out online and her private world of friends, her upcoming wedding, and, eventually, adjusting to life with her new husband. As she writes and prepares for her first trip overseas without her husband, Kathy charts the frenetic energy of the summer of 2017, unsure of whether the end of the world is truly approaching.

That sense of confusion was what Laing sought to capture. She wrote the book in real-time, with carefully outlined rules that were designed to ensure she didn’t deviate from the emotional responses to a specific whirlwind moment. Kathy, who is based in part on Kathy Acker, is also based on Laing, who turned forty and got married within the time frame of the novel. Crudo was conceived of as a means of understanding the impossible speed at which the news seemed to move, while also preserving the feeling of instability and uncertainty she saw in herself and those around her. Read more…

Working Through the Apocalypse: An Interview with Ling Ma

CSA-Printstock / Getty

Ryan Chapman | Longreads | August 2018 | 12 minutes (3,139 words)

The end of the world in Ling Ma’s novel Severance comes not with a bang, nor with a whimper, but a stream of misinformation, social media hysteria, and plenty of willful denial. If this sounds familiar, it’s far from dreary. Ma injects comic levity into a world ravaged by “Shen Fever,” whose victims perform habitual tasks in a mute, somnambulant state until they waste away. Candace Chen, a New York-based, Chinese-American millennial, is immune to the disease, and joins a small group of survivors led by a former I.T. specialist.

Although this post-apocalyptic remnant waves a typical number of red flags — micro-authoritarianism, liberal use of euthanasia — Candace makes do as they scavenge for food and mercy kill the “fevered.” Ma depicts the end times with alternating chapters on Candace’s pre-apocalyptic life: dating in Brooklyn, navigating adulthood, and working at a book production company. She specializes in Bibles and takes occasional business trips to printing facilities in Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

Ma has fun with the end of the world: Severance reads like The Walking Dead infected with the anarchic spirit of Office Space. Candace’s coworkers sport designer flu masks, idly wonder about the colleague who didn’t return on Monday, and debate whether to take the spot bonus for staying on when everyone else has the good sense to get the hell out of NYC.

Candace doesn’t have good sense. She maintains her routines and eventually moves into her office. She updates a photo blog called NY Ghost with images of the empty city. And we learn Candace is guarding a secret which may imperil her chances with her newfound “friends.” Read more…

I Would Never Say That, But the Character, He Said It: An Interview with Catherine Lacey

McKeown / Stringer for the Hulton Archive, Getty

Tobias Carroll | Longreads | August 2018 | 16 minutes (4,305 words)

Since the 2014 release of her debut novel Nobody Is Ever Missing, Catherine Lacey has established herself as one of the finest chroniclers of alienation working in fiction today. Her follow-up, The Answers, took as its subject a young woman who is hired to be part of an experimental program to give a famed screen actor a kind of compound girlfriend. Both novels grapple with questions of restlessness and malaise, and turn familiar fictional ground — an American abroad in the former, a larger-than-life celebrity in the latter — into something strange and mysterious.

Lacey is also an acute observer of larger literary and cultural traditions: last year, in collaboration with artist Forsyth Harmon, she released The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex, and Artistic Influence. In it, she chronicles the dizzying web of connections between artists of many disciplines over the course of decades — and in doing so unravels the mystique of the solitary genius.

Lacey’s latest book is her first collection of short stories. Certain American States demonstrates another aspect of her literary abilities. The stories found in here cover a wide stylistic range, from the surreal travelogue of “The Grand Claremont Hotel” to the meditation on loss and possessions found in “Please Take.” That stylistic range allows Lacey a way to explore her preferred themes of alienation and interconnectedness in a myriad of ways — making for an unpredictable set of narratives throughout the book. Read more…