There’s a good chance Georges Borchardt was responsible for shepherding at least one of your favorite writers to publication. After immigrating to New York from war-torn France at age nineteen in 1947, Borchardt found work as an assistant at a literary agency. One of the first sales he completed on his own was a play by an Irishman titled Waiting for Godot.
Over the next seven decades, Borchardt introduced American readers to works by Jean-Paul Sartre, Marguerite Duras, Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Eugene Ionesco, and found a home for Elie Wiesel’s oft-rejected Night. He has represented John Gardner, Mavis Gallant, Stanley Elkin, and John Ashbery. Today his clients include Ian McEwan, T. C. Boyle, and Susan Minot as well as the nonfiction writers Tracy Kidder, Anne Applebaum, Adam Hochschild, and—somehow—me. Here’s my Interview with this fascinating man.
Here’s a link to my lengthy interview and Sleeping Dragon excerpt in the March/April edition of the AWP’s Writer’s Chronicle, its magazine sent to members and over 500 university writing programs. The AWP’s text is behind a paywall, but the interviewer, John Coyne, has helpfully posted it on the Peace Corps Worldwide site.
I spent the past weekend back in Dazhalan and Xianyukou, the two ancient neighborhoods whose daily life – and destruction – form the setting and plot of The Last Days of Old Beijing. Remarkably, the district government and its affiliated development company invited a team of 25 Urban Land Institute planners and architects to advise on how to regenerate what to this point has been a failed project. The team included the man behind the rebirth of London’s Covent Garden, the woman who oversaw Singapore’s Changi Terminal 3, and the former mayor of Pittsburgh who steered the construction of our beautiful river trails and ballpark.
Half of my former home is now a chain hotel, and the residents evicted. Much of Dazhalan remains intact, while immediately to its east the formerly vibrant hutong neighborhood of Xianyukou is a field of rubble. Still, I left the capital optimistic about its rebirth, provided the developer chooses to rebuild a community, instead of an anodyne destination.
Get it on! On October 18 I’ll be in Los Angeles to sit in on the Adam Carolla Show, parrying with the Ace Man and praising Bald Bryan for his moving memoir of living with a brain tumor. (The great T.C. Boyle blurbed the book, and his praise is not wrong.) I hope Adam can explain how general contractors come up with their price estimates. I also hope he lets me see his cars, and asks me about Matt Lauer. “Matt is Matt.”
On November 6, I’ll speak at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, showing slides across twenty years of coming to know China from living in places most correspondents and tourists miss. Tickets are available here.
On October 12 I’ll show slides from the Chinese hinterlands across twenty years at the Asia Society NY (tickets here), in conversation with the New Yorker‘s Jiayang Fan. This is a talk starting from naivete, discussing how we think of and approach China based on our own starting points and eras. I began at zero! If a schmuck like me can figure this place out . . .