Hannah Gersen was born in Maine and grew up in western Maryland. She is a staff writer for The Millions, and her writing has been published in the New York Times, Granta online, and The Southern Review, among others. Home Field is her first novel. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.
Brooklyn, New York
Place of Birth
B.A. in English, Amherst College
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
I chose Amherst because it had an open curriculum. I also loved the campus, especially the bird sanctuary and running trails. I grew up in a rural area and I felt at home in the landscape.
Most memorable or most influential class at Amherst
“Reading, Writing, and Teaching”, and my senior English seminar on Proust.
Most memorable or most influential professor
Rhonda Cobham-Sander was an important influence. She became my advisor after I took her class, “Reading, Writing, and Teaching.” She understood what I was trying to achieve with my writing before I could even articulate it myself, and she helped me to see my strengths and weaknesses. She also introduced me to Jamaica Kincaid, James Baldwin, and James Wood, three writers who I am still learning from.
As a fiction writer, my research is pretty scattershot, but at the moment I’m interested in the life of Bayard Rustin, and women in the military. If there are any female alumnae who have served in the military, please contact me—I would love to interview you!
Awards and Prizes
I’ve received grants and fellowships from The Normal Mailer Center, The Elizabeth George Foundation, and Vermont Studio Center.
In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust
I can’t name just one! In no particular order: John Cheever, Jamaica Kincaid, Marcel Proust, Evelyn Waugh, Frank Stanford, and Virginia Woolf.
Tips for aspiring writers?
Read a wide variety of books and authors, especially when you’re in your early twenties and still in your formative years. Same goes for music, theater, film, and visual art. Try to seek out all different kinds of art and find out what inspires you. Look after your health and your friendships. Limit your time on the internet.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author
I always wanted to write a novel, but I didn’t get serious about it until after I graduated from Amherst and was living in New York City. I lucked into a really good writing job with the Parks Department where I wrote speeches for the Parks Commissioner. That job helped me to hone my writing skills. I also took night classes at the 92nd Street Y. From one of those classes, I formed a writing group with several other women. Over the years, the group got whittled down to just three of us, but we’ve stayed together for almost eight years now, reading and editing one another’s work.
There were some disappointing stretches in my path to publication. I spent three years writing a novel that was terrible, but I actually look back on that book fondly because it taught me so much. The next novel I wrote also taught me a lot, and I felt it was much more accomplished, but I couldn’t find an agent to represent it. Then I wrote a book of linked short stories that did attract an agent, but I couldn’t find a publisher. However, many of editors who rejected my book of short stories said they would be interested in a novel, so I decided to try again. The third time was the charm. Or, as Anne Enright once wrote of careers in fiction, “the first twelve years are the hardest.” When I sold the book, it had been almost exactly twelve years since I had begun taking night classes at the 92nd Street Y.