Writer Amy Wilentz is the author most recently of Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti, and is a professor in the literary journalism program at UC Irvine. Before moderating a panel on aid in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, she confessed to guilty literary pleasures (the Master and Commander series), skipping the occasional day of cello practice (she’s a beginner), and trying to get a good deal on eBay (for a cello bow) in the Zócalo green room.
What’s hanging on your living room walls?
I have a painting by a guy named Gerard. He’s a very famous Haitian naif painter. It’s a painting of three Haitian girls coming down a country road carrying fruit, and they are kind of a—traditional voodoo god even though you don’t know that from looking at the painting. They’re triplets, and they have a special significance in Haitian voodoo. They’re particularly blessed. And I have a picture of a painting in old Jerusalem, where I used to work.
What’s your favorite condiment?
Not to be too Haitian—it’s a little hot pepper thing that I got in Haiti. It’s a new thing, and it’s called “Yo Se La” or some name like that, and it’s just made out of the hottest habanero type of peppers, and it makes everything taste like Haitian food. And I also like ketchup.
What’s your favorite month of the year?
September. Birth month. Also, it is secretly the real beginning of the year, as we all know who went to school in America.
How do you pass the time when you’re stuck in traffic?
I call my friends. I listen to 88.1, that’s KJazz. I try to find anything on the radio that’s interesting, and sometimes I listen to Audible books, but it’s really embarrassing that I listen to them.
I love nautical history and British literature, so often it is the Master and Commander series, so that’s kind of—not that cool, kind of ancient.
Which item would you bid for on eBay?
I just hate to answer these questions. I feel old. A cello bow. I bid on them all the time, but apparently on eBay, the cello bows that are any good the collectors all know. I bid $25, and later when I check back it’s gone for $65,000. I’m always hoping to get a deal, however.
How often do you play the cello?
I try to play every day, but I don’t. I’m a starter, so I don’t play well, but I can play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and a few others.
Who taught you how to ride a bicycle?
My grandfather. I think I was like 6. It was a tiny little red Raleigh bike, really little, so cute, and I rode it in circles in the backyard, and he held onto the back.
Does L.A. have anything in common at all with Jerusalem?
Jewish people. Religious Jewish people. Actually, it has a lot in common. The climate—I remember when I was moving here, I’d think—this is like Jerusalem. There’s the bougainvillea like Haiti and Jerusalem—I’m home. But now I know better.
Where do you come up with your best ideas?
That’s arguing that I have any good ideas! One good thing about L.A. is traffic because you are stuck essentially by yourself with basically nothing to do in a car where you must think.
What’s the worst thing about finishing a book?
Being published and then hoping for reviews and being afraid. Also, I would say I have this in common with a lot of writers: small crowds.