I grew up in Pennsylvania and Washington State. I worked for three years in 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 while writing I was writing my dissertation on truth and deception in American autobiography, which contains a chapter on swindlers’ memoirs. I looked around for a book which would tell me which cons were being run in each different era of the economy, and what the successful swindles could tell us about the conditions for trust that were operative at that time. No such book existed. 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 that history. I began writing the proposal for The Mark Inside in March 2007, as the Bernie Madoff scandal unfolded. I began talking about the book to editors just as Lehman Brothers was collapsing in the summer of 2008. And I started to write the book 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.
My overriding interest is using story and creative narrative form to convey argument and analysis. I believe that first-person narration or a strong authorial voice can have a crucial function in the writing of history, but that creative nonfiction need not include memoir or self-revelation. I am always compelled when the discovery of the story is included in the frame of its telling, if it prompts insight into the ways we arrive at meaning.
Now, somewhat to my astonishment, I find myself writing a biography, a genre not typically associated with narrative. But the life I am researching is a life dominated by books and reading, and I feel quite at home within it. Katharine Sergeant White was the first fiction editor of the New Yorker and the invisible hand behind an important roster of writers who shaped twentieth-century American literature. This biography will read over her shoulder, to peer into the extremely intimate relationships she created to help make the writing life possible. 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 as they responded to the likes of Janet Flanner, Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Bishop, Jean Stafford, Nadine Gordimer, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Taylor, May Sarton, Louise Bogan, Emily Hahn, Christine Weston, Maeve Brennan, and Kay Boyle. 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. Title suggestions welcome.
I live in upstate New York in a 170-year-old house. I write upstairs in a dark blue room. Downstairs, there is a giant beloved dog straight out of an E. Nesbit book, two kids, one of whom is sitting on the window seat reading her book and the other of whom is designing video games on his raspberry pi, and my husband, Jay Farmer, who has just come inside from working in his garden for a beer.