John Freeman is an American writer and a literary critic. He was the editor of Granta from 2009 to 2013, and is a former president of the National Book Critics Circle. His writing has appeared in more than 200 English-language publications around the world and he currently edits a series of anthologies of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry entitled Freeman's, published in partnership with Grove/Atlantic and The New School. Reason enough, I figured, to want to talk to him about the role of the editor. His second book, a collection of his interviews with major contemporary writers titled How to Read a Novelist, was published in the U.S. in 2013 by FSG and features profiles of Margaret Atwood, John Updike, Geoff Dyer, Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, and others. It's the reason I wanted to talk to him about interviewing authors (plus the fact that I've watched him skillfully question authors on stage - well on Youtube - many times). During his time with the National Book Critics Circle, John launched a campaign to raise awareness of the cutbacks in book coverage by the U.S. national print media and to save book review sections. We talk about how this effort resulted in the establishment of Literary Hub.
Kenneth White is the founder of Sutherland House Books. He is the former editor-in-chief of Saturday Night Magazine, the founding editor of The National Post, and the former editor and publisher of Maclean’s magazine. He was president of Rogers Publishing, Canada’s largest magazine company, and the founding president of Next Issue Canada (now Texture), in partnership with Conde Nast, Meredith, Hearst, and Time Inc. Mr. Whyte is the author of The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst (2008, Random House), In 2017, he published Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times (Knopf), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Last month he launched a suicidal assault on libraries in a 3500-word article in The Globe and Mail newspaper. In it he posits, among other things, that: there are three times as many books borrowed as bought in the United States every year, and four times as many in Canada; that libraries don't passively lend books, they compete with booksellers by advertising how much people can save by borrowing rather than buying books, and they compete among themselves to lend the most books possible; and that most public library lending is of books read for entertainment, not edification, by people who can afford to pay for books.
We talked about his article via Zoom.
Jael Richardson is the author of The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Father’s Life, a memoir exploring her relationship with her father, CFL quarterback Chuck Ealey. It was adapted into a children’s book in 2016. Richardson is a book columnist and guest host on CBC’s q. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph and lives in Brampton, Ontario where she founded and serves as the Artistic Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). Her debut novel, Gutter Child, is coming out in January 2021 with HarperCollins Canada.
Jael's recent tweet about Canadian children's book publishers being racist caught my attention, and we agreed to talk about it via Zoom. During the second half of our conversation I present some of the feedback I received from Canadian publishers about the Tweet. During the first Jael talks about her memoir, life with her father, being black in Canada and the feeling of being lost. Among her key points: diversified hiring practices are good for business, it's important for young black students to meet black authors, and publishers should pay attention to who's making the money off the stories they choose to publish.
(Please accept my apologies for the annoying keyboard tapping sounds that occur at times during the course of the conversation. No idea why they're there. Perhaps it's the Russians trying to wreak havoc with the show, who knows).
Pierre Assouline is a French writer and journalist. He was born in Casablanca, Morocco and has published several novels. He has written biographies of, among others, the legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson; Hergé, the creator of The Adventures of Tintin; Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, the art dealer, and Georges Simenon, the detective novelist and creator of Inspector Maigret. As a journalist, Assouline has worked for some of France's leading publications, including Lire and Le Nouvel Observateur. He also publishes a popular blog, “La république des livres.” A number of his biographies have been translated into English including the one we talk about here, Gaston Gallimard, A Half Century of French Publishing (Harcourt Brace, 1988).
After graduating from university in 2005 Maylis Besserie began teaching documentary production at the Institute of Communications and Media in Paris, and joined France Culture as a radio producer and host.
In February 2020 she published her first novel, Le Tiers Temps (Gallimard). It evokes the last days of Samuel Beckett in a Parisian retirement home. The protagonist, while describing his responses to daily life in the home, also experiences a dream-like reality as he tries to recall the people and places that marked his life. On May 11, 2020 it won the Goncourt Prize for first novel.
We met at what we thought would be a quiet cafe in Paris to talk about the journey Maylis has been on with her new novel.
This is the second time I've interviewed her. First time round, several years ago, we met to discuss the art of the author interview.
'Barnet Lee "Barney" Rosset, Jr. (1922 – 2012) was owner of the Grove Press publishing house and publisher and editor-in-chief at the Evergreen Review. He led a successful legal battle to publish the uncensored version of D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover, and later was the American publisher of Henry Miller's controversial novel Tropic of Cancer. The right to publish and distribute Miller's novel in the United States was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1964, in a landmark ruling for free speech and the First Amendment.' Under Rosset Grove introduced American readers to European avant-garde literature and theatre, publishing, among others, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean Genet, and Eugène Ionesco. Most importantly, in 1954, Grove started publishing Samuel Beckett
John Oakes is the co-founder and 50% owner of OR Books, and publisher of the Evergreen Review, an online revival of the venerable counter-cultural literary magazine originally published by Grove Press under Barney Rosset whose memoir Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship OR Books published in 2017.
I talked with John about Rosset via Zoom.
Jacques Shore is a partner in Gowling WLG's Ottawa office, a member of the firm's Advocacy Group, and past leader of the firm's Government Affairs Group. He has acted as lead negotiator on many business and government-related initiatives and has worked actively on behalf of the federal government of Canada and provincial governments on a broad range of legal and public policy matters, including cultural policy. Actively involved in the community, Jacques is a past chair of Carleton University's board of governors and its executive committee and served as a board governor for thirteen years. In addition he served as chair of the Distinguished Council of Advisors of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. Jacques is currently the Chair of the Library Archives Canada (LAC) Foundation (April 2019 to present). He is also counsel to Amazon, providing legal, government relations, and strategic advice to the company, something I stupidly failed to ask him about. I did however hit him with quite a few questions about the need, purpose, mission, and plans of the new Library and Archives Canada Foundation and the people involved.
Richard Nash is a coach, strategist, and serial entrepreneur. He led partnerships and content at the culture discovery start-up Small Demons and the new media app Byliner. Previously he ran independent publishers Soft Skull (not Skill) Press and Red Lemonade where he published Maggie Nelson, Lynne Tillman, Vanessa Veselka’s Zazen, Alain Mabanckou, and many others, for which work he was awarded the Association of American Publishers’ Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing in 2005. In 2010 the Utne Reader named him one of 50 Visionaries Changing Your World and in 2013 the Frankfurt Book Fair picked him as one of the Five Most Inspiring People in Digital Publishing. In 2017 he founded Cursor Marketing Services, a shared US publishing office for the world’s leading English-language independent publishers.
As a coach, building on decades of mentorship and consulting, he now works directly with artists, writers, and entrepreneurs, helping them navigate personal and professional transitions.
We met via Zoom to talk about his influential article 'What is the Business of Literature?'
(Our cat Boo Bou insisted on getting her thoughts on the record as well during the first several minutes of the conversation. Apologies for the distraction).
David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic.
From 2014 through 2017, he served as chairman of the board of trustees of the leading UK center-right think tank, Policy Exchange. In 2001-2002, he served as speechwriter and special assistant to President George W. Bush; in 2007-2008, as senior adviser to the Rudy Giuliani presidential campaigns.
Frum is the author of ten books, most recently Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy (the putative topic of our conversation). The memoir of his service in the George W. Bush administration, The Right Man, was a New York Times bestseller, as was his 2018 book, Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic.
He and his wife Danielle Crittenden Frum live in Washington DC and Wellington, Ontario, where we met lake-side, at The Drake Devonshire, buffeted by the breeze, serenaded by the surf. We talk, among other things, about Trumpocalypse (HarperCollins, 2020); Shakespeare and Byron; crocodiles and alligators; Trump, of course; marriage; how Twitter affects the writing of a book; adolescence and childhood; Chomsky and George Washington; America the Good versus America the Bad; American exceptionalism; finding the right person; and the choice between changing the world and changing yourself.
Peter Florence is a British festival director, notable for founding the Hay Festival with his parents, Norman and Rhoda Florence. FYI the first festival was financed with winnings from a poker game.
Peter was educated at Ipswich School, Jesus College, Cambridge, and the University of Paris and has an MA in Modern and Medieval Literatures. He holds honorary doctorates from four universities.
He has replicated the success of Hay in numerous cities around the world, launching similar festivals in Mantua, Segovia, the Alhambra Palace, Cartagena, Nairobi, Zacatecas, Thiruvananthapuram, Dhaka, Xalapa, Belfast and Paraty.
He is the co-editor of the Oxtales and Oxtravels anthologies with Mark Ellingham of Profile Books, in partnership with Oxfam and has written for the Index on Censorship, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Spectator and numerous other publications.
"Florence chaired the jury of the 2019 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and controversially defied the foundation’s 1993-established rules to award the prize to two authors. Bernardine Evaristo - the first black woman to be awarded the prize - shared the prize with Margaret Atwood." ( unfortunately, I failed to ask him about this).
He and his wife Becky Shaw have four sons. They live in Herefordshire. Peter was awarded an MBE in 2005 for services to Arts and Culture and a CBE in 2018 for services to Literature and Charity. We met via Zoom to talk, among other things, about Hay's recent on-line, Covid-driven 2020 event and how Peter plans to capitalize on its enormous success, about what special ingredients are required to put on good festivals and interesting sessions, about the English language, party animals, translation, what makes Peter happy, and the titles of his favourite recent reads.
Mark Bourrie is a Canadian lawyer, blogger, journalist, author, historian, and lecturer. His work has appeared in many Canadian magazines and newspapers. In 2020, his book Bushrunner: The Adventures of Pierre Radisson, won the final RBC Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction. Known widely as the namesake of ships and hotel chains, Pierre-Esprit Radisson is perhaps best described, writes Mark, as “an eager hustler with no known scruples.” "Kidnapped by Mohawk warriors at the age of fifteen, Radisson assimilated and was adopted by a powerful family, only to escape to New York City after less than a year. After being recaptured, he defected from a raiding party to the Dutch and crossed the Atlantic to Holland—thus beginning a lifetime of seized opportunities and frustrated ambitions.
His venture as an Arctic fur trader led to the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which operates today, 350 years later, as North America’s oldest corporation".
I talked with Mark over the phone about the genesis of his book, and about Radisson and his life with capitalism, the Mohawk, the British and the French.
Ian Wilson was chief Librarian and Archivist of Canada from 2004 to 2009. Prior to this as National Archivist, with Roch Carrier the then National Librarian, he developed and led the process to merge the National Archives and National Library into a unified institution. "His distinguished career has included archival and information management, university teaching and government service." In addition, he has published extensively on history, archives, heritage, and information management and has lectured both in Canada and abroad. "Born in Montreal, Quebec, he attended the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean and obtained a master's degree from Queen's University in 1974. He began his career at Queen's University Archives, later becoming Saskatchewan's Provincial Archivist and Chairman of the Saskatchewan Heritage Advisory Board. He was appointed Archivist of Ontario in 1986, a position he held until 1999." He chaired the Consultative Group on Canadian Archives on behalf of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The Group's report, Canadian Archives - generally known as the "Wilson Report" - published in 1980 - has been described as "a milestone in the history of archival development in Canada." He is currently a consultant. I met with Ian at his home in Ottawa to talk about how the merger between Library and Archives is going, about Canada's great Dominion Archivist Arthur Doughty and Canada and its Provinces his monumental, under-appreciated nation-building publishing project, and about the essential role Library and Archives Canada plays, or doesn't play, in cultivating a distinctive national Canadian identity.
Larry Grobel is the author of more than 25 books - including Conversations with Capote (which received a PEN Special Achievement award), and Talking with Michener. He has been a freelance writer for more than 40 years, having written for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and Movieline and many other publications. He is also a renowned interviewer, having conducted and written numerous iconic Playboy magazine interviews over the years. The magazine called him “the interviewer’s interviewer” after his interview with Marlon Brando for its 25th anniversary issue.
We met via Zoom to talk about his superb book The Art of the Interview (2004) and its companion volume Endangered Species: Writers Talk about their Craft, their Visions, their Lives. Its foreword calls Larry "prepared, adaptable, and graced with the intelligence needed to shoot the breeze and elicit intriguing responses, gossip and wisdom.
Joyce Carol Oates has called him “the Mozart of interviewers” and J.P. Donleavy has called him “the most intelligent interviewer in the United States.” He currently teaches seminars on The Art of the Interview at UCLA.
Jonathan Rose is the William R. Kenan Professor of History at Drew University. His fields of study are British history, intellectual history and the history of the book. He was the founding president of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, and has served as the president of the Northeast Victorian Studies Association. His book, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, won the Jacques Barzun Prize , the Longman History Book of the Year Prize and the British Council Prize. Other books include The Literary Churchill, A Companion to the History of the Book, and British Literary Publishing Houses 1820-1965. His most recent work is as co-editor with Mary Hammond, of the four volume Edinburgh History of Reading.
Jonathan is co-editor of Book History, which won the Council of Editors of Learned Journals award for the Best New Journal of 1999.
We met via Zoom to talk about his book Reader's Liberation, a fascinating narrative history of independent skeptical reading, from antiquity to present. Topics covered include defending the humanities, free expression and leaky censorship, the importance of reader reception, reading and revolution, making the Bible accessible in everyday English, the First Amendment, Great Books programs and common conversation, the disaster of 'Common Core,' Louise Rosenblatt, Clifton Fadiman and The Book of the Month Club. the positive influence of Oprah Winfrey, the drive toward literacy in Black America, Hugh Hefner and the Playboy interviews, objective versus partisan media, "native" advertising and credibility, docile students and cancel culture.
- Reni Eddo-Lodge, is a London based, award winning author and journalist. Her writing focuses on feminism and exposing structural racism. She's the author of the Jhalak Prize winning, bestselling Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, published by Bloomsbury, and host of a podcast series called About Race.
Why I'm no Longer Talking topped a public poll of twenty books shortlisted in 2018 by the UK Booksellers Association as the most influential book written by a woman
We met at the Blue Met Literary Festival in Montreal (she was here to accept the Words to Change Prize, awarded to "the writer of a literary work that upholds the values of intercultural understanding and social inclusion", to talk about her book, about white people talking about racism, and about the prevalence and effects of systematic, structural racism in England and around the world.
Leslie Weir was the University Librarian at the University of Ottawa from 2003 to 2018. She became Librarian and Archivist of Canada in August, 2019. Ms. Weir is the first woman to hold this position since the National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada were merged to form Library and Archives Canada in 2004.
She was born and raised in Montreal, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Canadian History from Concordia University in 1976 and a Masters in Library Science from McGill University in 1979. She joined the University of Ottawa in 1992. During her tenure as University Librarian, she founded the School of Information Studies in the Faculty of Arts where she was also a Professor. She was a member of the Board of the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN), from its inception until 2009 and again from 2011 to 2015. She served as President of Canadiana.org between 2012 and 2016 where she oversaw the introduction of the Heritage Project to digitize and make openly accessible some 60 million heritage archival images. Ms. Weir was also president of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries from 2007 to 2009 and president of the Ontario Library Association in 2017. We met in her high-ceilinged offices at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa to talk about, among other things, the merging of Library and Archives, the mandate of LAC, federal government departmental libraries, the Library of Parliament, budgets, acquisitions, fundraising and the new LAC Foundation, author archives, Michael Ondaatje, exhibitions, the new LAC building, partnerships, Access to Information requests, the white diamond building, legal deposit, the Internet, Dominion Archivist Arthur Doughty, gold claims, book collecting culture, Pierre Berton, Kay Lamb, and Winston Churchill.
Of course Dublin is where the biggest Bloomsday Festival takes place each on June 16th, with celebrations set in many of the "original sites" sited in James Joyce's novel Ulysses. But did you know that the second biggest celebration in the world takes place every year in Montreal? It's grown quickly over the past four or five years, and is now a five-day affair.
Dave Schurman is the president of the Festival Bloomsday Montreal. Along with his wife Judith and a team of enthusiastic volunteers, they've created "a celebration of the words and wit of Joyce, and other Irish literary lions," that features not only writers, but also musicians and actors and academics. It's quite an event.
I talk with Dave about his experience establishing Bloomsday in Montreal, and pick his brain for advice about setting up similar events around the world.
Paul Litt is a historian of public life in late twentieth-century Canada. His research explores the cultural workings of modern Canadian mass democracy focusing on the media, the politics of image, tourism, the politicization of identities, and nationalism. He is currently a Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.
We met in his office to talk about 20th century Canadian government book publishing policy, specifically about Canadian cultural identity and nationalism, literature, copyright, new versus old media, documentary film, broadcasting, the Massey Commission, high versus mass culture, university funding, text books, the National Library, the Canada Council, Ryerson Press, national unity, and cultural industry policy.
Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post Book World and the author of the memoir “An Open Book” and of four collections of essays: “Readings,” “Bound to Please,” “Book by Book” and “Classics for Pleasure.” Dirda was born in Lorain, Ohio, graduated with highest honors in English from Oberlin College, and received a Ph.D. in comparative literature (medieval studies and European romanticism) from Cornell University.
We met in Washington D.C., pre-Covid, to discuss specifically Michael's book Readings, and more generally the books he thinks are worth reading and collecting.
Miami native Mitchell Kaplan is the owner/founder of Books & Books, one of the premier independent bookstore groups in the United States, and a respected leader in the book business. Along with Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami-Dade College (MDC), he co-founded The Miami Book Fair (MBF), the largest event of its kind in the United States, in 1984. He hosts the Literary Life with Mitchell Kaplan podcast and is a partner in the book-to-film optioning business The Mazur/Kaplan Company (greatest claim to fame? The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society).
I met with Mitch in the open-air restaurant at his flagship Mediterranean-styled bookstore in Coral Gables to discuss his career and success in book-selling and sundry other related enterprises. Among other things we talk about Miami, Colorado, The Beats, Red Rocks, the Tulagi Bar in Boulder, 18th century London bookseller James Lackington, 'third places,' community, bookstore restaurants, remainders, the Books & Books Press, and movies.