Small talk: Chad Harbach

Chad Harbach shot to fame with his debut novel The Art of Fielding, which was chosen as one of the Ten Best Books of 2011 by The New York Times. Born in Wisconsin, he studied at Harvard and went on to do a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing at the University of Virginia. Harbach is executive editor of the American literary journal n+1. He lives in Brooklyn.

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What book changed your life?

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I read it just as I was graduating from university and it made me feel that writing was something you could do in the contemporary world.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Sam Lipsyte is the funniest writer in America. It was a story he published in The New Yorker.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Mortals by Norman Rush. And I just read a chick-lit novel called Queen Takes King by Gigi Levangie Grazer, which I really recommend.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

The day my book came out. I doubted what I was doing until then.

Where do you write best?

Out – where someone’s keeping an eye on me, like in a café.

Which literary character most resembles you?

He’s very dashing so I’m not sure if he resembles me but the only one I’ve come across is Chad Newsome in Henry James’s The Ambassadors. It’s probably entirely in the name.

Who are your literary influences?

David Foster Wallace, Herman Melville, Faulkner and Chekhov.

What are you scared of?

Global warming, which I spend most of my day thinking about.

When do you feel most free?

Those rare moments when I have nothing to do but write.

How do you relax?

I play American football every Saturday, which I find calming.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

They weren’t big on the distribution of advice but they liked to admonish me.

What would you change about yourself?

I’d get a bit taller. Tall people have a real advantage in the world.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

I’ve earned my living in all sorts of terrible ways – as a janitor, a copy editor, a psychotherapist. It would have to be something new. My parents have been farming for the past few years so I would grow vegetables.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

New York. It’s the kind of energy involved with the city and the thoughtful people who live there.

What does it mean to be a writer?

What’s so wonderful about the novel is that it’s the art form that allows you to get the most of life into it – the fullest, deepest and most realistic version of life that you can capture. To be a writer is to try to come ever closer to doing that.

Chad Harbach’s ‘The Art of Fielding’ is published by Fourth Estate

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