Michael Cunningham is the author of the novels A Home at the End of the World, Flesh and Blood, Specimen Days, By Nightfall, and The Hours, a winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award and Pulitzer Prize. Cunningham began teaching fiction workshops at Yale last spring. He lives in New York and stays at the Study when in New Haven.
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What is your favorite thing to do at the Study?
Meeting students for conferences in the lobby. It has better light than my office, more comfortable chairs, and beverage service.
You can’t live without …
Okay, I admit it. My iPhone. Which is funny, because up until a little over a year ago, I was managing just fine without any such contraption.
If you could meet one character from a novel, who would it be?
Mr. Darcy, from Pride and Prejudice. I’ve had a crush on him since high school. I know I’m not his type, but still …
If you could ask President Obama one question, what would it be?
Will you please do something about Guantanamo, because I’ve still got my Obama underwear from Election Day, and I’d like to start wearing it again.
What is your favorite word and why?
“Cleave,” because it has two opposite meanings. And it’s a nice word to say aloud. You launch yourself off that hard “C,” float over the vowels, and land gently but firmly on the “V.”
The last thing you ate/drank was …
A protein shake. The next thing I’m going to eat is a cheeseburger. Balance is important. The yin and the yang.
What’s the most difficult piece you’ve ever had to write?
The novel I’m working on now. This is always the case. Ask me the same question in 10 years, and I’ll have the same answer, though it’ll be a different novel.
The most embarrassing moment of your career was …
Hm, there are any number of contenders … Okay. Not long ago, I went to a reading by Rick Moody, having just gotten off a plane from Europe. I sat in the front row, and fell asleep. Did I snore? Surely. Did I drool? Probably. I suspect Rick will never forgive me, nor should he. Look for an annihilating review by Rick of some future novel of mine.
What is your favorite New Haven institution?
The Owl Shop.
Most importantly, why is Yale better than Harvard and Stanford?
I love Yale … I wish I’d gone to Yale. I have Yale envy.
I don’t know enough about Harvard to say. Stanford, though — don’t get me started. Stanford is a neo-con institution (yes, Condoleezza Rice is the Provost) that pays almost no attention to its students once they’ve arrived. A chilly atmosphere of practicality pervades — one is clearly expected to be preparing for law, medicine, or business. The art building stands behind the gilded palaces devoted to the sciences, and it looks like the public bathroom at a beach. People talk about how beautiful the campus is, but when I was there, all I could think was: the biggest Taco Bell in the world.
Whew. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.