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Meet the WritersImage of Stephen Greenblatt
Stephen Greenblatt
Stephen Greenblatt is the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, editor of The Norton Shakespeare, and prizewinning author of many academic books, including Hamlet in Purgatory.

Author biography courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company.

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Good to Know
Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Greenblatt:

"As a child, I loved to read so much so that I can remember my mother calling to me, ‘Stevie, you'll ruin your eyes. Put down that book and come watch I Love Lucy.' "

"My father was a marvelous, virtually obsessive storyteller."

"Though I have spent much of my adult life thinking about Shakespeare, my first encounter with Shakespeare was a disaster. In junior high school, I found As You Like It quite possibly the most tedious and annoying thing I had ever read."

"I have interests and hobbies outside my work, of course, but the crucial thing to say is that I don't experience a great divide between my work and my pleasure. On the contrary."

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In the fall of 2004, Stephen Greenblatt took time out to talk with us about some of his favorite books, authors, and interests.

What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Strangely enough, it is probably Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals, which I must have read as a freshman in college. It deeply shocked and upset me; in fact I hated it. But it deeply challenged everything I believed in and cared about; it made me understand that a book could do such a thing, and I have never fully recovered from its recklessness and brilliance.

What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?

  • Shakespeare's Complete Works -- For all the obvious reasons.

  • The King James translation of the Bible -- For its overwhelming literary power, far more than its truth claims.

  • Montaigne's Essais -- For me the greatest model of probing, sophisticated human intelligence and fundamental decency.

  • Franz Kafka, Complete Stories -- For their ability to transform my vision of the world.

  • Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire -- A massive work to lose oneself in -- and to discover the secrets of one's own country and one's own time.

  • Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina -- For its eerie ability to seem a completely different novel each time one reads it.

  • Charles Dickens, Great Expectations -- Fantastic to read aloud, as well as silently; at once wildly entertaining and deeply moving.

  • Anton Chekhov, Complete Short Stories -- Many of them as close to perfection as human beings can come. I take them with me to isolated places where I can only carry a very light, inexhaustibly interesting volume.

  • Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice -- Pure pleasure.

    What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
    M, with Peter Lorre, for its astonishing atmosphere, tough-mindedness, and stunning visual intelligence; The Third Man, for its weird, haunting score and Orson Welles's performance; Shakespeare in Love, for engaging a mass audience in a literary question.

    What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
    Classical. Favorite operas: Don Carlo (Verdi); Così fan tutte (Mozart). But I never listen to music while I'm writing.

    If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
    Philip Roth's The Plot Against America -- for its intuitive grasp of the national crisis of identity.

    What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
    Art books.

    Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
    No special writing rituals. And my desk is usually cluttered.

    What are you working on now?
    A book about an obscure Italian humanist who dug up lost manuscripts.

    Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
    I've been at this for 40 years. And, as an academic, I've been content with relatively small audiences, with the thought that the audience I long for will find its way eventually to what I have written, provided that what I have written is good enough.

    If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
    I would like more people to "discover" Montaigne -- dead, of course, for more than four centuries.

    What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
    The only advice I have is to keep writing.

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  • About the Writer
    *Stephen Greenblatt Home
    * Biography
    * Good to Know
    * Interview
    *Three Modern Satirists: Waugh, Orwell and Huxley, 1965
    *Sir Walter Raleigh: The Renaissance Man and His Roles, 1973
    *Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, 1980
    *Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England, 1988
    *Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture, 1990
    *Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World, 1991
    *Practicing New Historicism, 2000
    *Hamlet in Purgatory, 2002
    *Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, 2004