Place of birth
J.D., Yale Law School (1989)
M.A., Columbia University (1986)
A.B., Brown University (1982)
A.M. (honorary), Amherst College (2005)
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
I entered law school knowing I wanted to go into legal academia. My interests were interdisciplinary, but I was resigned to teaching in a law school. As I was entering the job market, Amherst announced plans to launch its novel program in Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought. All very serendipitous.
In my academic incarnation, I write about the war crimes trials as means of reckoning with the legacy of mass atrocity. I’m presently writing a book about the recent trial of John Demjanjuk in Germany, in all liklihood the last of the high-profile prosecutions dealing with Nazi-era crimes.
Awards and Prizes
A New Statesman Book of the Year for The Vices; IPPY Silver Prize, General Fiction, for The Catastrophist, Independent Publisher Books Award; National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Fellowship. ITT-Fulbright International Fellowship.
Pnin, Vladmir Nabokov; Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh; Sentimental Education, Gustave Flaubert.
In no particular order: Nabokov, Flaubert, Muriel Spark, Kafka, Thomas Bernhard.
Tips for aspiring writers
Edit, edit, edit and edit some more. And don’t take no for an answer. At least, not for the first decade. Then you might want to look into doing something else.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author
I started writing short stories when I was in law school—only the stuff wasn't short, and there was no story. I wrote without plan, conception, or outline, without the slightest idea of where I was starting or where I was going. Every "story" would end after 70 or so pages—way too long to be published in a magazine and way too short to be a novel. Still, I mailed these efforts off. Everything was rejected.
When I started teaching at Amherst, I knew I'd have to dedicate myself to a sustained scholarly project if I ever wanted to see the light of tenure. And so I did. It took time, but I developed a clear research agenda, which I pursued with focus and pleasure. But as soon as I received tenure, I promptly went back to writing fiction. The move baffled some colleagues and even left me disconcerted. On some level, I had hoped that I'd mastered or outgrown this fiction thing. But no. I published my first novel, The Catastrophist, in 2006. The Vices is my second.