I grew up in Pennsylvania and Washington State and went to college in Portland, Oregon. I worked for three years in scholarly book publishing before leaving to go to graduate school. I received my Ph.D. in American studies from Yale in 2007.
My first book, The Mark Inside, began when I discovered Frank Norfleet’s too-good-to-be-true story of going undercover into the Big Con. It struck me as the perfect tale on which to hang a history of American economic development as driven by fraud and speculation. I started to write the book as soon as I left the academy, at the exact moment that the confidence game of the subprime housing market threatened to bring down the entire financial industry. The Mark Inside was published by Knopf in March 2012 and the Vintage paperback came out in 2013.
My overriding interest is in using story and creative narrative form to convey argument and analysis. I am in interested in stories from 19th and 20th century American history that revise our conventional understanding of literature, markets, and women's participation in both. That's not true. My overriding interest is in reading, and I write because I read.
And that's why I'm writing a biography of Katharine Sergeant White, the first fiction editor of the New Yorker, because what is an editor but someone who puts her reading into action? This biography will read over Katharine's shoulder, peering into the extremely intimate relationships she created to help make the writing life possible for dozens of women and men. I will argue for the importance of her forgotten work, and will make a larger argument about women readers as the drivers of literary culture. If I do my job right, you’ll come away from this book understanding a little bit more about why you like the books you do. The biography is forthcoming (not soon) from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I live in upstate New York in a 170-year-old farmhouse with two teenagers, a rowdy puppy, and my husband, Jay Farmer. I also proudly serve on the Executive Board of my local indie cooperative bookstore, Buffalo Street Books.