BookPage contributor Alden Mudge has been interviewing authors for more than 20 years. In a guest post, he reflects on a common thread among his three most recent interviews: Starbucks.
As a standard-issue Berkeley resident, I am a fierce loyalist of Peet’s Coffee. French Roast, to be exact. So of course I look with snifty disdain on the thin brew served at a-Starbucks-on-every-corner.
But credit where credit’s due. In the past three months, every novelist I’ve interviewed has mentioned writing some chunk of her novel at a local Starbucks.
Téa Obreht, whose remarkably assured first novel will be featured in next month’s issue of BookPage, usually writes on a desk she’s carted around from house to house over the last five years. But, she says, a portion of The Tiger’s Wife, was composed at a corner table in the local Starbucks in Ithaca, New York.
Lisa Genova, who was interviewed about her second novel, Left Neglected, last month, has a “beautiful writing room. It’s the sunroom of the house. It’s all windows and we overlook a saltwater creek that leads out to the ocean.” But as a mother of young children, she says she can’t write there. “There are too many distractions. I think, I’m home, I should throw in a load of laundry. I should call the repair guy. Household duties loom heavy over me when I’m here.” So what does she do? She goes to the local Starbucks in Chatham on Cape Cod. “There’s nothing else to do there but write the book.”
And then there is the very funny Karen Russell—author of Swamplandia!, and, like Téa Obreht, one of the exceptionally talented young writers named to the New Yorker’s 20 best writers under 40 list. Russell says she has to leave her apartment to write because it’s so teeny, tiny. So a lot of her debut novel was composed at a Starbucks on 181st Street in Manhattan.
A year ago she won a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, where they gave her “this beautiful office space to write in. It was like getting this amazing promotion. I think I embarrassed everyone. I was like, ‘look at this! The drawers open soundlessly!’ They looked at me like they were wondering if I’d been homeless or something.” Now she’s back writing at her Starbucks again. “I was away for a year writing in my fantastic library office and now I’m back. We never exchange words but I just feel like the vibe is ‘Oh, look who has come crawling back. Guess it didn’t work out so well, so you’re drinking your vente in the corner again.’ ”
So credit to Starbucks. But a query: Whatever happened to that old, ideal image of the writer in his garret or a room of her own? What could it mean that so many writers now prefer to work out there in public, in front of everyone?