The 2011 Commonwealth Reading Series of events with MCC writers and poets, which began this week, continues TONIGHT, Friday, March 18, 7 PM with a reading at Grub Street, Inc. – Boston’s creative writing center.
Among tonight’s readers is Adam Schwartz (Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Fellow ’10), author of the “stunningly good” (says Don Lee) new novel A Stranger on the Planet. Here, Adams answers a few questions about his work, his writing life, and the truth in fiction.
ArtSake: You’ve had a number of author events surrounding your new novel. Are there any questions you dread being asked by an audience during the Q&A?
Adam: Why it took me so long to complete my novel. I’m comfortable with questions about how autobiographical my novel is, but questions about why I spent so many years on it feel too personal to explain in a brief answer.
ArtSake: Indeed, in your note to readers on Amazon.com, you say that A Stranger on the Planet took you over 20 years to write. What benefits does a long gestation bring to a work of literature?
Adam: Spending so much time on a book brings both advantages and disadvantages. The benefits are a richness and complexity that ferment over time; on the other hand, it was an enormous challenge to seamlessly incorporate material that I felt I had out-grown with more recent sections of the book.
ArtSake: I was fascinated by another quote from that article, that “everything in the novel is invented and that it’s all absolutely true.” Can you talk about the truth that fiction gets at, for you?
Adam: Invented details always feel more “true” than the details I draw directly from life. The parents in the novel bear a very close resemblance to my real parents, and I did live in the same places where my protagonist lives. But one of Seth’s most important relationships is with Sarah, his twin sister, and I don’t have a twin sister. Several years ago, I was sitting at my desk on a Saturday morning writing a story about a character based on my mother when the phone rang – it was my mother, of course. I was irritated that she had interrupted my writing, but then my mood brightened when I heard the profound dissonance between the voice in my ear and the character in my head. It meant that my writing was going well, that the character based on my mother had a fictional life of her own.
ArtSake: You teach writing at Wellesley College. What do you try to instill in emerging writers?
Adam: To keep writing because it brings meaning to their life and not because they have visions of fame and success.
ArtSake: Can you point to any one decision you’ve made as an artist that has had the most impact on your career?
Adam: To be the best father possible to my daughter. I adopted my daughter in 1996, and that happened to be the last year in which I published a story before my novel came out. I didn’t have much time to write between having a demanding teaching job and being fully involved in my daughter’s life. I’m reluctant to say, though, that it had a negative impact on my writing career. I’m sure that the experience of being a parent will enrich my writing for years to come.
Adam Schwartz will read from his novel at Newtonville Books in Newton on Sunday, March 20, 2 PM. Also, Adam joins Jamie Cat Callan, Cheryl Clark, Ron Spalletta, and Marc Velasquez for a Commonwealth Reading Series event on Friday, March 18, 7 PM, Grub Street, Inc. in Boston. Other events include Porter Square Books (3/31), Forbes Library in Northampton (3/23), and Newtonville Books in Newton (4/5).
Adam Schwartz is a Senior Lecturer in the Writing Program at Wellesley College. His stories have been widely anthologized, and his first novel A Stranger on the Planet was published in January 2011. Previously, portions of that novel were published as stories in The New Yorker. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.
Image: Cover art for A STRANGER ON THE PLANET by Adam Schwartz (Soho Press 2011).