New Haven, CT
Place of Birth
Amherst '08 (B.A. in Political Science); Harvard Law School '12
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
I became deeply attached about four minutes into the campus tour, called off the rest of the college visitation circuit, and applied early. Just something in the air, I guess. I was not at all aware of any of the big selling points or wonderful things about Amherst at the time I fell in love with the place, so I'm glad that those turned out to exist after the fact.
Most memorable or most influential class at Amherst?
Many were memorable, and many were influential, but the one that stands out for me the most, still, is Strange Russian Writers, starring the unsinkable Stanley J. Rabinowitz. I can trace a lot of the things I came to care about back to that experience.
Most memorable or most influential professor?
The aforementioned Professor Rabinowitz, 01002, who made me feel good about writing weirdly; David Sofield, who made me feel good about writing vulnerably; Bill Taubman, who made me feel good about writing seriously; Connie Congdon, who made me feel good about using swear words in front of grownups.
Awards and Prizes
It's Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov, then probably half a dozen other books by him, then Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita... then maybe Cash by Johnny Cash.
Vladimir Nabokov is my favorite author by a significant margin, but then again there's Italo Calvino. Later on, there's Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Wolfe, Elizabeth Bishop, W.B. Yeats, DFW. In the still-alive category, I'd start with Zadie Smith, Patrick deWitt, and Karl Ove Knausgard.
Tips for aspiring writers?
One tactic that helps me immensely is to read everything I write out loud, which sounds like a ridiculous tip even right now, as I'm writing it. Sometimes, particularly when it comes to dialogue, I'll record myself speaking what I've drafted and listen back to it to get a better sense of how it comes across, which of course is deeply embarrassing. If, like me, you're better at listening for authenticity than writing it, hearing what you've written can help you to suss out what is true and what is awful. It's a sonic sanity check; I can't begin to count the number of times I thought I had written something brilliant, only to hear it out loud and realize that it sounded false or flimsy or arhythmic.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author.
It was roundabout. I graduated from law school in May of 2012, took the New York Bar Exam that summer, and had a job lined up in the Obama Administration beginning in November -- which is to say, I had about four empty months on my hands. I’d always sort of casually entertained the idea of writing a novel, and that stretch felt like an opportune moment to give it a go. I had never attempted to engage in any sort of creative writing before, nor had I ever properly studied it (despite ample opportunities to do so at Amherst). So, like a child in the dark, I just sat and wrote, directionless. After ten weeks, I had a 52,000 word manuscript that featured all of the craftsmanship and subtlety of a ransom note. After that, I had to go back and learn how to be an author and make it all nice and everything. Still learning.