To Wit: Flash Interviews–Marya Hornbacher

Marya Hornbacher is an award-winning essayist, journalist, novelist, poet, and the New York Times bestselling author of five books. She is the recipient of the Annie Dillard Award for Nonfiction, a Logan Nonfiction Fellowship, the White Award for Magazine Journalism, the ASCAP Award for Music Journalism, the Fountain House Humanitarian Award, and other distinctions. Her writing has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Smithsonian Magazine, Crazyhorse, AGNI, Gulf Coast, The Normal School, Fourth Genre, DIAGRAM, Arts & Letters, and many others. Hornbacher is currently at work on her sixth and seventh books, a work of long-form journalism and a collection of essays. She teaches nonfiction, fiction, and poetry in the Master of Fine Arts in Writing program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.


1. What writer do you want to be when you grow up?

Myself, heavily edited. I would be a very bad writer of someone else’s work. 

2. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

Doesn’t every writer say “The piece I’m currently working on but have not yet been working on long enough to hate it and wish I’d never seen its face?” No? Current favorite is an essay in draft (“Dance with the Devil, Let the Devil Call the Tune”), second favorite is an essay called “The Vigil Chair.” 

3. Who do you trust with your drafts and why?

Nonfictionists Ruth Berger and Karen Babine, graphic novelist Christi Furnas, poet and journalist Lora Kolodny, novelist Rebecca Rotert, playwrights Mike Oatman and Winter Miller, and my first writing teacher, novelist and poet Jack Driscoll. Why? Because they’re all much better writers than I am. More specifically, it’s important to me to get input from a lot of angles, both in terms of editorial insights on genre and form, and in terms of reader response.

4. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

As a kid, my father used to say, “Talent and a quarter, kid—that’ll buy you a cup of coffee.” (It did, in the 1970s.) The upshot is that writing, like every creative endeavor, is a practice, a craft, a discipline, and ultimately a job. Talent, it seems to me, is responsible for a lot of brilliant half-written books. The literary works that see the light of day may well involve more pigheadedness and chutzpah than art.

5. What’s your go to recommendation to read when somebody says “I’m not sure about this whole nonfiction thing?” Why? What do you hope it shows them? What about it excites you?

The collected works of James Baldwin. I want every reader to experience the heights to which he takes the literature of fact. His work is the best illustration I know of an exact intersection of intellect and artistry, insight and observation, personal experience and a keen awareness of the shaping forces at work in the world. 


Keep Reading

Marya Hornbacher, “The World is Not Vague”: Nonfiction and the Urgency of Fact,” Assay 5.1

Chelsey Clammer, “Discovering the (W)hole Story: On Fragments, Narrative, and Identity in the Embodied Essay,” Assay 3.1

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