John Burnham Schwartz is the author of five acclaimed novels, including The Commoner, Claire Marvel, Bicycle Days, Reservation Road, which was made into a motion picture based on his screenplay, and his new novel, The Red Daughter. His books have been translated into two dozen languages, and his writing has appeared in many publications, including The New Yorker and The New York Times. A winner of the Lyndhurst Foundation Award for mastery in the art of fiction, Schwartz has taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Harvard University, and Sarah Lawrence College, and is currently literary director of the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference.
On June 18, he will be speaking at House of SpeakEasy’s Seriously Entertaining show, The Song Sings Itself, alongside Michael Bronski, Trish Hall, and Darcey Steinke. We spoke to John ahead of the show.
What is your earliest memory involving reading or writing?
There was a picture-book author who was a friend of my aunt’s. When I was quite small, he generously promised me that he would put me in his next book – and then one day the book arrived, and there it was: my name, written into the drawing of a truck. He had put me inside a story! And I knew then that that was the very best place to be.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
If writing fiction is your committed “bad habit” – the thing you can’t live without and which makes no real economic or practical sense – then you must be extraordinarily shrewd about every other professional decision you make, always, so as to insure that your bad habit can never be taken from you.
What writer past or present do you wish you could eat dinner with?
What are you reading right now?
I am reading or re-reading several family/marriage memoirs by writers I admire: W.S. Merwin’s Unframed Originals; Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family; Richard Ford’s Between Them; Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings; Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.
Are there any quotes you use to inspire you?
Walt Whitman: “Make the Work.”