With “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (2003), Audrey Niffenegger went from hand-bound chapbooks to the best seller list. Since then, Evanston’s favorite writer/painter/graphic novelist has been taking the (multi)media world by storm.
You published your second novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry,” in 2009, and your serialized graphic novel, “The Night Bookmobile,” came out this past fall. What are you working on these days?
A ballet (I am making the story, costume and set designs and a friend is choreographing), a screenplay (based on “Her Fearful Symmetry”) and a new novel (“The Chinchilla Girl in Exile”). I am also in the early stages of a retrospective of my artists books and artwork, planned for 2013 in Washington DC.
You’re on the faculty at Columbia. What’s your approach to teaching writing? If your students walk away from your classes with one thing, what do you want that thing to be?
I teach for the Fiction Department, my class is Visual Books. So I am working with young writers to integrate their writing with images and to make actual books. I think the main thing they discover is that there are many more possibilities in books than they might have imagined. The words mean something, but the form is meaningful too, and the synthesis can be more interesting than either alone. My approach to teaching is to ask for the impossible and then patiently help the students build skills and understanding until they can create it.
Take me through your daily writing routine—do you work on a set schedule, X words/pages/hours a day, or do you binge-write when inspiration strikes? From home, the library, a coffee shop, a “space”?
I have no proper schedule, I spend a lot of time thinking about the thing, then I plunge in and work in spurts. I usually work at home, though I do have a weekly writing date with my writer friend Janet Lefley at Kopi Cafe.
Best place to get inspired in the city?
I get many of my ideas whilst driving, so my best place is probably Lake Shore Drive.
In an alternate life, the one where you aren’t a writer/visual artist, what would you be doing?
I’d be a librarian. Though at the moment they are a bit endangered, I worry about my favorite librarians every time anyone says the words budget cuts. Maybe I should be a squirrel instead, so far they seem unaffected by the economy and it would be nice to be able to run up and down trees.
What (existing) book did you not write but do you wish you’d written?
“The Night Circus,” by Erin Morgenstern. It isn’t quite published yet (September!) but soon it will be in every bookshop in the land, and I expect it will become a huge hit. It was sumptuously beautiful and very original.
Anything coming up in Chicago—literary or not—that you’re especially excited about?
Printers’ Ball on July 29—that’s always good fun.
—Interviewed by Rachel Sugar