Speaking of Writing

Morning Edition had a fun feature this morning. In conjunction with the publication of The Writing Life, a collection of essays originally published in The Washington Post’s Book World, NPR gathered three of the book’s contributors — Jane Smiley, Michael Chabon, and John Edgar Wideman — to discuss their craft. I always enjoy listening to experts talk about their particular areas of expertise, regardless of the subject, but I have a special fondness for writers, especially those as charismatic and infectious as Smiley and Chabon. (I don’t know a thing about Wideman.)

This is when I pull on my “This proves I was there, that I heard of them first” T-shirt. Six years ago when I was writing my Master’s thesis — an embarassing mess titled, “The Laugh’s on Us: Ambivalence of Identity in Contemporary Jewish-American Fiction” — I contacted Chabon via his Website, and he was gracious enough to answer my questions (and my follow ups) over the course of a week or two. My favorite of his responses was to an awkward question about the “Jewishness” of his identity (ah, the enthusiasm of the novice pedant). His response:

This is a question that I can only answer, I think, through my work. Which as you will eventually see, if I can just get this novel done, is taking on more overt Jewish content than it has heretofore.

I was so pleased when he did get that novel done — The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay — not only because it won the Pulitzer (and deserved it), but because it brought him a larger, much-deserved readership. He seems to be a genuinely nice guy, and he writes some of the best sentences I’ve ever read.