Writer, Editor, Friend
WHAT’S YOUR MOTTO?
He who conquers himself is greater than he who conquers a city
WHAT’S ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND?
A lamp and a notepad. I recently moved and I’m attempting minimalism if not in my head then certainly next to it. My last nightstand was overloaded with books, novels by William Maxwell and “Some Country Houses and Their Owners” a small Penguin paperback of literary sketches by British diarist James Lees-Milne, books that I’ve read that I found consoling in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep.
WHAT GIVES YOU GOOSE BUMPS?
Stories about seemingly miraculously resolutions for people with secret, or not so secret, grief.
WHAT IS YOUR BAD DAY BACKUP PLAN?
Carbohydrates and meditation. There are no bad carbohydrates in an emergency and sometimes a raisin bagel can restore one to sanity. And there are no bad meditations, they all work, once you realize it is the breathing not the thinking—or stopping thinking–that brings the physiological benefits from meditating. This business of stopping one’s thoughts? Impossible. You sit, you breathe. It’s like a potter spinning a bowl. The bowl holds your thoughts. The more you focus on the breath, the bigger the bowl becomes and the smaller the thoughts. The smaller the thoughts, the less they command your attention.
WHAT ARE YOU GRATEFUL FOR?
The kindness and generous spirits of friends, the patience and good humor of my partner, the artist Garrett Chingery, all my employers past and present, and for the love of dogs.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
Wanting what you have.
BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
Don’t take everything so personally
BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER GIVEN?
Give time, time (to do its healing.)
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW THAT YOU ARE EXCITED ABOUT?
Lots of things: I recently completed a first draft of a script for a recently published novel I wrote, My Mrs. Brown and it was very well received by the people who hold the option on the book. A few months ago I started work on a new novel, I’m excited about that, and when I moved, drowning in an archive of research and personal ephemera, I got the idea for not just a memoir, but also a way to format that memoir so hopefully it’s about something other than me, me, me. May I continue? I also found, when I moved, in boxes in storage a novella I’d some 20 years and forgotten about. It’s social satire meets science fiction. It’s very weird. I’m excited to rework it. And I’ve commissioned new books for Phaidon Press, where I work, and I’m excited about working with the authors.
HOW DO YOU PRESS PAUSE?
I disappear into the alternate reality of a movie or a television show; Bose over-the-ear headphones and a tablet while I rest on the bed, comfortable. With the headphones, you really hear everything ambient in the film—surround-sound style–and with the tablet, instead of the screen on the wall across the room, there’s no side view, it’s pure immersion, a therapy of sorts whether it’s an old Cary Grant film—“The Bishop’s Wife”–or something snap, crackle and Pop like “Empire.”
WHAT DID YOUR 8-YEAR-OLD SELF LOVE DOING?
Was a sad year I’m afraid. I loved spending time with my father those months before he died.
IF YOU COULD HAVE ONE MAGIC POWER WHAT WOULD IT BE?
The time-shifting ability to have Sunday lunch with the people I love and miss who’ve “gone on ahead.”
WHAT MAKES YOU FORGET TO EAT?
Being all wrapped up in my writing and editing, or remembering I have some event coming up on the schedule about which I am feeling anxious and instead of relying on inner strength for confidence I think I need cheekbones–more, better, pronounced cheekbones.
WHAT 3 THINGS WOULD YOU GRAB IN A FIRE?
Garrett, Milo, our dog, and Garrett’s paintings, especially one called The Builder.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE – YOUR GREATEST CHALLENGE?
Finding ways to not let my depressions depress me, it’s lifelong work.
Madcap. Because I’ve never really been! But people I love have. It’s very Preston Sturges.
FAVORITE WORK OF ART?
So many I can’t answer. It’s Garrett Chingery’s aforementioned The Builder because it’s high-level figurative painting with social meaning that honors American laborers, without whom we are nothing. And then it’s Andy Warhol’s “Jackie” paintings. They are the epitome of historical reporting filled with feeling, the sort of emotional intelligence that only comes through fine art. Some have written that the “Jackie” series is Andy’s “Mona Lisa.” I don’t know, have you ever seen people looking at one of these “Jackies” in a gallery, or museum, or someone’s collection? It’s the viewer who always looks very Mona Lisa while they are looking.
Collected Poems by Stevie Smith. Mostly short poems, seemingly sometimes so childlike and jolly in cadence and rhythm, yet they often level the most devastating details of disappointment and grief, and hope, and resilience…a lot like life. Certainly life as I find it.
To learn more about William Norwich, check out his book, My Mrs. Brown: A Novel, and follow him at: