For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Trying to judge the most accurate comment about my work would make me dizzy. But I can think of a really early comment that still pops up in articles a dozen years later, and it was someone comparing my style to “Isaac Bashevis Singer on crack.”
What have you read (or seen or heard or tasted or etc.) recently that will permanently change our readers' lives for the better?
That’s easy. There’s a donut shop here in Brooklyn called Dough. They’ve got a stand at the Brooklyn Flea now too. Those donuts are evil good.
Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
That’s funny. It reminds me of the days of video/DVD rental. There was this store on the upper-Upper West Side and the clerks were so snooty, I’d always have to get something really serious to go along with a fun movie if I wanted to check out without getting sneered at. As for a celebrity tell-all, I can’t right now imagine needing any more information than Gawker provides.
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
For me, that period was in Jerusalem when I was polishing up my first book. I had a tab at this coffee shop T’Mol Shilshom because I didn’t have enough money to pay for my coffees and the owner has always been supportive of my work (before he could even tell if there’d be work to support). And I was sharing this tiny hovel of an apartment with my buddy Joel. It was patched with chicken wire and tin and when it rained, we’d sit and watch the water run down this one light-bulb hanging from a wire and wait for the place to burst into flames.
What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
One thing I find truly meaningful is when people who’ve experienced a world I’ve only imagined engage with the fiction—when for them it reads as it should. That may be a hazy or clipped way of explaining it, but it has provided some of the most meaningful moments with readers that I could ever hope for.
Have you ever written anything that you'd like to take back?
I talk about this with younger writers when they ask, or yell at my students about it on a regular basis: Do not put anything out into the world until you are ready to stand by it until your dying day. Write anything and everything that you want—and need—to write, rewrite until there is no more rewriting to be done, but there is no rush to publish. Publishing is a separate matter. When you put a book out into the world, it better be finished. It better be the book you want to have written.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart