Five Questions with Rivka Galchen

Image credit Sandy Tait

Image credit Sandy Tait

Rivka Galchen is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances, the short story collection American Innovations and the non-fiction book on motherhood, Little Labors. She regularly contributes fiction and essays to The New Yorker, Harper's and The London Review of Books. This semester, she's teaching a graduate fiction workshop at NYU.

We caught up with Rivka via email to ask her a few questions about her medical background, children's lit and the best things about growing up in the Midwest.  

1. You are a licensed psychiatrist! (I just found this out from classmates). What is the most surprising similarity you've found between medicine and writing?

I'm not, really! I do have an MD. But I never 'practiced' medicine. I did, however, like the hospital at night, when everyone, the patients and the staff both, are basically in pyjamas. That intimacy reminds me of writing. 

 2. If you had to live in a children’s book which one would you pick?

Aye-yie. The kids are almost always orphaned. There are tesseracts. Other than Harold's Purple Crayon, I think they're mostly too scary. And even with Harold, I don't think I would maintain that beatific bemusement in his position, he nearly drowns.

3. Best advice your mother ever gave you?

Wear your hair like Joe in The Facts of Life.

4. We heard you had an undergrad creative writing class with Jonathan Safer Foer; is this true? Do you remember anything specific about that class or about him? Did anything magical happen that lead you both to have successful careers in writing?

And Joyce Carol Oates was the professor! I still remember that one of Jonathan's stories, about a lip transplant, was titled "Beautiful Lips," which left Joyce having to say, "Now we'll workshop Jonathan's 'Beautiful Lips.'" That's my main memory of the semester.

5. Our workshop has quite a lot of Midwesterners in it; what was growing up in Oklahoma like? Do you feel like the Midwest informs your writing at all?

I'm still trying to recover from my happy childhood. Going to the drive-through of the bank was so exciting, the tension of wondering whether the teller would include a lollipop when sending back the capsule through the vacuum tube.  

Bonus: What is the most unusual thing you believe in? (vampires, religion, people as inherently good, etc. etc.)


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