SpeakEasy Blog

Seriously Questioning…Laura Spinney

Laura Spinney is an author and science journalist. She has published two novels in English, The Doctor and The Quick. Her third book of non-fiction, Rue Centrale, came out in 2013 from Editions L’Age d’Homme (in French and in English), and her fourth, a tale of the Spanish flu called Pale Rider, came out in 2017.  She also writes on science for National Geographic, The Economist, Nature, New Scientist and The Telegraph among others.

On October 16, she will be speaking at House of SpeakEasy’s Seriously Entertaining show, Forget Me Not, alongside Gregory Pardlo, Itamar Moses, and Joel Rose. We spoke to Laura ahead of the show.

What is your favorite first line of a novel?

I love the first line of Vivant Denon’s novella “No Tomorrow” (which he wrote in his native language, French). Technically it’s two sentences, but nobody seems to mind: “I was madly in love with the Countess of…; I was twenty, and I was naive; she deceived me, I protested, she left me. I was naive, I pined for her; I was twenty, she forgave me: and as I was twenty, naive, still cuckolded but no longer deserted, I considered myself the luckiest of her lovers, the happiest of men.”

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t be precious about words. Throw away many more than you keep.

What writer past or present do you wish you could eat dinner with?

Today, Clarice Lispector.

What writer do you wish you could share with the world?

Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, who wrote soaring Greek-style myths set against the soaring Swiss Alps, and is almost completely unknown to the English-speaking world.

What are you reading right now?

The Vanished Library by Luciano Canfora, about the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria. What fascinates me about this subject is how difficult it was to preserve books in the ancient world in general. They were always going up in flames or meeting other sticky ends. Since the greatest concentrations of books were usually found in the greatest centres of power, what has been preserved has usually come from peripheral locations – less important places. In other words, our understanding of the ancient world may be totally biased and unrepresentative.


Seriously Questioning…Gregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo’s ​collection​ Digest won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His other honors​ include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts; his first collection Totem was selected by Brenda Hillman for the APR/Honickman Prize in 2007. He is Poetry Editor of Virginia Quarterly Review. Air Traffic, a memoir in essays, was released by Knopf in… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Itamar Moses

Itamar Moses is the Tony Award-winning author of the full-length plays The Band’s Visit, Outrage, Bach At Leipzig, Celebrity Row, The Four of Us, Yellowjackets, Back Back Back, and Completeness, and various short plays and one-acts. His work has appeared Off-Broadway and elsewhere in New York, at regional theatres across the country and in Canada, and has been published… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Richard M. Cohen

Richard M. Cohen is a journalist and producer, having spent 25 years in network television news on shows such as PBS’s McNeil Lehrer Report and The CBS Evening News, where he was the recipient of numerous awards in journalism, including three Emmys, a George Foster Peabody and a Cable Ace Award. Cohen is the author of… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Elliot Ackerman

Elliot Ackerman is the author of the novels Dark at the Crossing, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and Green on Blue. His writings have appeared in Esquire, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications, and his stories have been included in The Best American Short… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Faith Salie

Faith Salie is an Emmy-winning contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning and a panelist on NPR’s Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! She also hosts the PBS show, Science Goes to the Movies. Her book, Approval Junkie, a collection of essays chronicling her lifelong quest for validation, has been called “disturbingly hilarious.” On September 18, she will be speaking… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Caroline Weber

Caroline Weber is a Professor of French at Barnard and the author of The New York Times Notable Book, Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution. Her essays have appeared in a wide variety of academic and mainstream publications. She has published articles on eighteenth-century authors such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Sade, Charrière, and La Chaussée,… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Kashana Cauley

Kashana Cauley is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. Her writing has also appeared in The Atlantic, Buzzfeed, Esquire, The New Yorker,  Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. She is a former staff writer for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Kashana is speaking at House of SpeakEasy’s Seriously Entertaining show on May 22nd, themed No Man’s Land, alongside Lauren Hilgers,… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Lauren Hilgers

Lauren Hilgers is a journalist whose articles have appeared in Harper’s, Wired, Businessweek, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine. Her new book is Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown. Lauren is speaking at House of SpeakEasy’s Seriously Entertaining show on May 22nd, themed No Man’s Land, alongside Caroline Weber and Meg Wolitzer. We spoke to… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…E. Lockhart

E. Lockhart is the author of the New York Times-bestselling We Were Liars, which has been published in 33 countries. She is also the author of the National Book Award finalist The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and the New York Times-bestselling novel Genuine Fraud, which Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner are adapting for their… Continue Reading

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