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In her latest novel, The Past, Tessa Hadley writes about four adult siblings who come to stay for a few days at their grandfather’s house in order to decide the future of this place that has meant so much to their past. Hadley first became known in this country for her short stories that regularly appear in the New Yorker. Hadley was reached by phone at her hotel before an appearance at Free Library of Philadelphia. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

RA: When your novel was sent to me, all I knew about it was that it was called The Past, and I thought of course it was going to be a huge, mammoth work dealing with hundreds of years of histories and continents, something that’s worthy of such a huge title. Obviously the past is a huge subject in it, but it’s dealing with a tiny family. What made you put a title so broad on a subject so intensely focused?

TH: It took me ages to get that title. I was about two-thirds of the way through and I had about three or four working titles, all of which I was pretending to myself I was satisfied with, and suddenly it was just so obvious. I suppose what I really think is you’re right — there’s something funny about calling it The Past and then it’s this tiny little fragment of one family history in one country. But that huge great big billion-year past is made up of tiny little pieces, and the tiny little pieces, like that little family, the shards of individual pasts, actually capture in them bits of history, bits of historical change. In the novel, we feel the change between 1968, that moment when the great plates underlying our cultural and social life seemed to be shifting, and then the present, 40-odd years later, when, well, maybe one of the things one feels is that they haven’t shifted as much as everybody thought they were going to in 1968. I hope that always the individual story kind of opens onto the bigger history, if in a winding way. More… “A Thing of The Past

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.

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James Kaplan’s Sinatra: The Chairman completes his two-volume biography (Frank: The Voice was volume one) of the man widely regarded as the great interpreter of American popular song. While Sinatra has already inspired a library of books, no one else has succeeded as well as Kaplan in teasing out the complicated relationship between the singer’s life and art. Reached by phone in New York, Kaplan was happy to discuss the results of his ten-year effort to document a public life that stretched across more than six decades. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

RA: Reading Sinatra: The Chairman, a quote of Joni Mitchell’s about David Geffen kept springing into my head, which is: “He’d have to spend a lot less time being generous if he spent a little being fair.” Maybe in Sinatra’s case, the word “fair” should be changed to “sensitive to other people,” or “reasonable.” I don’t know what word you want to put there, but could you explain the relationship between his incredibly legendary generosity and the sort of difficulty he could have in treating people around him well? More… “Under Our Skin”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.

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Kelly Cherry is an award-winning poet and novelist, and the former Poet Laureate of Virginia. Her latest book, Twelve Women in a Country Called America, is a collection of short stories. TSS assistant editor Maren Larsen reached Cherry by phone at her home in Virginia.

1.I recently read your collection Twelve Women in a Country Called America, and this collection’s title firmly sets the scene of these stories in the United States, but I would tend to argue that the true setting is the American South. You open the book with a quote from Norman Mailer: “This country is so complicated that when I start to think about it I begin talking in a southern accent.” Why do you (and Norman) think that the South is the “real” America?

Well, I don’t think that Norman thought that the South was the “real” America. He was making a sarcastic comment about how southerners talk: slow, not necessarily making much sense, putting in big words. It was a sarcastic crack, but I thought it was a funny sarcastic crack. It just occurred to me that that would be a good starting point for the stories in which the women do talk about their own states, but they also talk about America in general.

More… “5 Questions with Kelly Cherry”

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

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Orhan Pamuk is one of the world’s best-known novelists. The Nobel Prize-winning author’s fictions often focus on the lives, times, and people of his native Istanbul. His latest novel, A Strangeness in My Mind, was six years in the writing and tells of the life of one street vendor in the city. TSS editor Richard Abowitz reached Pamuk by phone in New York where he teaches at Columbia University.

TSS: The title of your new novel, A Strangeness in My Mind, comes, of course, from a Wordsworth poem — a massive work, The Prelude — but I’m struck by the way you use it, because, you know, we think of Wordsworth as a poet that loved nature, and, while he was pre-industrial revolution, he wasn’t exactly a fan of what he saw coming. You use it, in your new book: “In a city, you can be alone in a crowd, and in fact what makes the city a city is that it lets you hide the strangeness in your mind inside its teeming multitudes.” How did you think of applying Wordsworth to a city and as the title for your book? More… “5 Questions with Orhan Pamuk”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.

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Mary Beard is a classics professor at University of Cambridge. Her books have covered everything from ancient art to Roman laughter. Her honors include a National Book Critics Circle Award. She is a public intellectual in the old-school sense of narrating BBC specials, as well as adding a contemporary twist with an active Twitter account and a blog. Her most recent book SPQR: A history of Ancient Rome was published earlier this year. The Smart Set editor Richard Abowitz reached Beard for this interview by phone in her hotel room in Philadelphia, where she was scheduled to make an appearance at the Free Library of Philadelphia later in the evening. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

TSS: Let me start by asking about one of the many Roman oddities: for people that were so concerned with their genealogy — so obsessed, as you point out, that they would put great effort to fabricate it back to the founders of Rome and mythic kings — they seemed remarkably willing to accept outsiders as Romans and as emperors and as consuls.
More… “When In Rome”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.

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Grant Hart is a songwriter and musician best known as a former member of the 80s hardcore punk band Hüsker Dü. Hart’s most recent album The Argument is an extended musical reworking of John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost.

This interview was conducted by students in the Honors course “Writing About Rock Music” at Drexel University with guidance from Smart Set editor Richard Abowitz. The conversation was constantly interrupted with laughter spurred by Hart’s infectious humor and sharp wit.

TSS: So I read that when you were growing up, you liked more of the 50s and 60s music…

GH: Well I considered what my peers were listening to and I thought, “God if these people are listening to this stuff, this stuff has to be stupid.” I was making an association that was false and there was a lot of stuff I had to go back and learn to appreciate, things that I skipped over before. Early 50s, the people that came from, let’s say poverty, and were exploited as songwriters but could make a hit record without any instrumentation short of their vocal sounds — that was really intriguing to me.
More… “Change of Hart”

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.

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In April, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni sat down with Paula Marantz Cohen, dean of the Pennoni Honors College, to discuss, among other things, higher education and his most recent book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.

P: I’d like to discuss your life and career a bit before discussing your latest book. You went to journalism school at Columbia, then you worked at the New York Post, then at the Detroit Free Press before coming to the NYT, and that was in 1995. Now what I think is interesting is that seems to me sort of the traditional trajectory for getting into journalism at the highest level at the time.

B: Yes and no. The idea of trading up newspapers or trading up venues is traditional. I don’t think starting out at a tabloid and ending at the NYT, that’s not exactly traditional.

P: Do you think that trading up (the tabloid aside) is totally gone now? What does one do, in your opinion, now to get a career in journalism?
More… ““There is No One Path””

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

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