Andrew Sean Greer is an American novelist and short-story writer. The New York Times called his 2008 novel The Story of a Marriage “lyrical” and “inspired.” His first novel, 2001’s The Path of Minor Planets, was well received, and his second, 2004’s The Confessions of Max Tivoli, earned him comparisons to Proust and Nabokov from critic John Updike. His stories have appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and other national publications. Born in Washington, D.C., Greer received his bachelor’s degree from Brown University and his master’s degree from the University of Montana. He currently resides in San Francisco. Greer was so well received as an undergrad that his classmates elected him the commencement speaker, for his own graduation.
Andrew Sean Greer: I think it will be seen as part of a cycle. I think it will seem like it did, in a way, in the early ‘50s of anxiety and repression and fear and then I have a sense maybe it will open up into a new sort of ‘60s. Those things seem to go in waves like that, so I have that hope, but for sure it will be seen as, I think, an oddly dark time in American history, I really do. When, for one moment, America ruled the world and then it was the tipping point where we lost it forever. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we shouldn’t have ruled the world.
Question: How did you feel after 9/11?
Andrew Sean Greer: Well, I was in a weird place. I was at McDowell colony in New Hampshire, so I was in a strange world apart, sort of childlike place and where it’s full of New Yorkers who are all trying to call home and my brother lived in New York at the time and cell phones didn’t work. There were two pay phones. And we had a lot of foreign artists there as well, so it was very confusing because we were in rural New Hampshire. People were flying giant American flags on their trucks and at the same time the foreign artists were saying to us America has brought this on itself. So we told them I don’t want to have this conversation right now. I will have this conversation with you in six months. I know what you’re talking about, but I can’t talk with you about it and they’d say America needs to talk about it and it was a tough talk to have. And on the other hand, we were in a place that had become that true kind of patriotic America that we all saw that I also was not comfortable with and I thought here it comes, people are going to start beating up the Arabs. I know it. And at the same time, I’m starting to feel, you know, bound to my country and of course, we squandered that feeling entirely and we did kind of beat up the Arabs and I mean, I just couldn’t believe what happened after that. It could’ve gone so many ways. I guess I didn’t mention how I felt. Still hard to get at, but it was otherworldly to watch that on the TV. Being drawn out of the narcissism of writing your novel, writing Max Tivoli and having someone knock on your door and at that colony you’re not allowed to knock on anyone’s door ever. It was the first time it had ever happened and said you have to come and watch it. So I saw the second tower fall and suddenly no one wanted to write their work. You know, my novel felt like the stupidest thing in the world. I had a novel coming out two days later, I was supposed to start a book tour. No one cared about that. It was hard to care myself, you know, it seemed like there was other stuff at stake and novels didn’t seem like where it was at. Now I believe the opposite. Now I think, like, fiction has a place to understand those things that are hardest to understand that non-fiction can’t ever get at.