Lit Hub Asks: 5 Authors, 7 Questions, No Wrong Answers

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The Lit Hub Author Questionnaire is a monthly interview featuring seven questions for five authors with new books. This month we talk to:


Hala Alyan (The Moon That Turns You Back)

Steven Kurutz (American Flannel: How a Band of Entrepreneurs Are Bringing the Art and Business of Making Clothes Back Home)

Nam Le (36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem)

Jacob Rubin (Piggy Bank)

Adelle Waldman (Help Wanted)


Without summarizing it in any way, what would you say your book is about?

Adelle Waldman: Work.

Hala Alyan: Longing. Beirut. Codependency. February. IVF clinics. Lucid dreaming. Palestine. Pregnancy tests. Daughtering.

Jacob Rubin: Trying to connect with people who are gone and / or can’t hear you.

Nam Le: I reckon the title about almost covers it.

Steven Kurutz: American makers. Resilience. The tragedy of deindustrialization. Survivors. Hope. A well-worn flannel shirt. Asking who we want to be as a country—consumers and marketers, or makers?

Without explaining why and without naming other authors or books, can you discuss the various influences on your book?

Hala Alyan: Archives. Maps. The first few weeks of a new season. Carving a heart on a rubber stamp next to two initials. Sonogram heartbeats. Anesthesia. Walks through Cooper Park. Calling a friend breathlessly. Finding the water at the end of a humid night. Rhyme schemes.

Steven Kurutz: A vintage Carhartt jacket found in a resale shop. My childhood in the rust belt. Family road trips to Woolrich, Pennsylvania. Picanol high-speed looms and ANGE sock knitting machines at furious work. American style especially the holy trinity of jeans, white tees and flannels.

Nam Le: Red, general; green, food & garden organics; purple, glass; yellow, mixed recycling. PET code 1 bottles, yes; food containers, jars, berry punnets, no; HDPE code 2 detergent, milk & juice bottles, yes; grocery bags, no; PP code 5 ice-cream, butter & yoghurt containers, yes; PVC code 3, LDPE code 4, PS code 6 and PC code 7, no, no are you dense?, no.

Adelle Waldman: Boxes, trucks, The Office, Succession.

Jacob Rubin: White Rock Lake; certain beloved walks I take by my house in Dallas; the pandemic.

Without using complete sentences, can you describe what was going on in your life as you wrote this book?

Nam Le: Lockdown. And not the Duolingo / Zoom-drinks / sour-doughy one.

Adelle Waldman: Caring for a small child.

Hala Alyan: Cutting my own bangs. Waiting for HCG levels. Googling fetal heartbeats. Crying in green paper gowns. Waiting for him to pick up. Covid.

Jacob Rubin: Coffee, memory, and ESPN.

Steven Kurutz: New fatherhood. Covid. The death of a family member. Fatherhood, again. Too much time procrastinating on online auction sites. A big, jolting move out of the city.

What are some words you despise that have been used to describe your writing by readers and/or reviewers?

Steven Kurutz: I work for The New York Times. The critiques I receive from readers are too varied and specific to neatly summarize.

Hala Alyan: “Human.”

Nam Le: A domestic scene from this morning comes to mind. My daughter puts my huge headphones over her ears, says, “Try and talk to me to see if I can hear.” I say nothing, do nothing, just watch her. Daughter: “What? What?! What??!”

Adelle Waldman: Pretentious. Confusing.

Jacob Rubin: “Zany.”

If you could choose a career besides writing (irrespective of schooling requirements and/or talent) what would it be?

Jacob Rubin: Defensive end.

Nam Le: Maybe a music producer? Maybe a music producer in, like, Tuscany?

Adelle Waldman: English teacher.

Hala Alyan: Visual artist. And/or photographer.

Steven Kurutz: Woodworker, sculptor, landscape architect, classic car restorer—some job where I’m molding physical objects rather than words.

What craft elements do you think are your strong suit, and what would you like to be better at?

Nam Le: All of the above.

Jacob Rubin: I think I’m good at narrative structure. I would like to be better at every element of writing.

Steven Kurutz: I have a good instinct for story and characters and an ear for great quotes. I’d like to develop the fiction writer’s talent for sensory detail and description.

Adelle Waldman: I think my strong suit is light irony. I’m terrible at lyricism.

Hala Alyan: I’ve got description and meandering imagery down. Plot is an ongoing wrestling match.

How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?

Steven Kurutz: As a journalist I mostly tell other people’s stories, which cuts down on the self-indulgence. And I try to shine a light on deserving people who for one reason or other haven’t received their due, which gives me a sense of mission.

Jacob Rubin: I don’t think it’s hubristic for a person to feel they have something to say.

Nam Le: What? What?! People are interested?!

Hala Alyan: I genuinely don’t. I trust people to make decisions on engaging (or not) with my work.

Adelle Waldman: By feeling disgusted with myself much of the time.

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