Five Questions for James Hannaham

james_hannahamName: James Hannaham
Title/Occupation: Writer/professor
Organization/Company: Pratt Institute/McSweeney’s Books

1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?

I grew up in Yonkers, New York. To get to Fort Greene, Brooklyn, I took the BxM4C bus from the stop at Tuckahoe Road and Rockne Road down to 5th Avenue and 23rd Street, where I walked over to Park Avenue South and took the 6 Train to 14th Street, transferred for the 4/5 (being careful to make sure the 5 wasn’t stopping at Bowling Green—I hate waiting twice). I got out at Nevins Street because it’s less difficult to negotiate than Atlantic/Pacific, crossed underneath to the exit on the east side of Flatbush Avenue to avoid traffic, walked up Fulton to Lafayette, and I was here. This actually says a lot more about me than it might first appear.

2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?

I liked the one from Belgium a lot. Huh? Do you really expect people to choose just one? Okay, random selection here, Quotations from a Ruined City by the late Reza Abdoh’s company Dar A Luz. An unbelievable, fantastic, dark, funny and outrageous piece of performance/theater. Not sure it has had any influence on my work whatsoever, but it blew my mind.

3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?

I wish I could teleport at will. Saves a lot on airfare and you get to travel extensively and still be home for dinner. In the realm of possibility, though, I wish I had a short-term memory, like, at all.

4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.

7:30am-Awakened by BF making smoothie in blender. Return to sleep. 8:30am-Struggle awake. 9:30am-Strong coffee, email, NPR in background. 10:30am-Gym. Noon-Class prep. 2-3:50pm-Class. 4-7pm-Writing. 7-9:30pm-Reading for class/pleasure, or dinner/drinks w/ friends or play or opening or something. 9:30ish-Herbed fish and quinoa dinner w/ BF. 10:30-Midnight-More reading or Net surfing or emailing or what have you. Pretty dull, eh?

5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?

Let me tell you why I hate this question. Because it assumes that there is a difference between “work” and “art.” When I say “work,” as in “I’m going to do some work,” I usually mean writing. The line is very blurry for me because I have been writing non-fiction for a long time, and the ability to make a living at non-fiction is a kind of wizardry that makes you seem like an artist even if you aren’t. Having begun, with the publication of my first novel, God Says No, a venture into the artistic life, there hasn’t been a tremendous change, except that I get a bit more autonomy. I guess I’m always making a choice between work and art by avoiding getting a “real” job. Not that at this point I could get one. I mean, I graduated from college in 1990 and never had a full-time job until 2008, and that was writing reviews at In the business world they’d mistake me for an extraterrestrial life form.

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