Jack Hitt writes for The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine and is a regular contributor to This American Life. He is the author most recently of Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character, and last year he toured the country with a one-man show, Making Up the Truth. Before moderating a discussion of the American art of risk-taking, he sold us on two cult novels and offered up the most surprising thing about performing solo onstage in the What It Means to Be American green room.
What do you wake up to?
Where do you write?
I have a studio that I built in the back on my property. It’s a sliver of my garage. It’s this very tiny space. I like to be enclosed when I’m writing.
What’s the last great book you read?
Stoner, this novel from the ’60s about a guy named Stoner. It has nothing to do with marijuana. The author’s name is John Williams. Stoner was great, really fantastic. I’m a big fan of Norwood by Charles Portis, and it’s another one of those obscure books that has a little cult following. And it is in fact great.
Where would you like to make a pilgrimage to next?
Well I’ve done the road to Santiago in Spain three times. So I’d like to try one of the sacred pilgrimages in India.
What’s your worst habit?
(A long pause.) Procrastination.
What surprised you most about performing a one-man show?
That it’s a two-way exchange. That the audience is performing for you as much as you are performing for them. And that the difference between a bad performance and a good one is when you acknowledge that their reaction is a kind of performance, and you have to give space in your work to let them reply and respond to what you’re doing.
What’s the ugliest tie you own?
My mother once gave my brother and me each a yellow-and-teal-striped enormous tie. We both cherish our possession of them even though they are never worn.
If you had to go pro in anything—other than writing, obviously—what field would you choose?
Silicon Valley startup.
What’s the last thing that made you laugh?
Probably this morning’s newspaper.
What does it mean to be American?
I think it’s the opposite of what F. Scott Fitzgerald said, when he said that there are no second acts in America. I think he got it entirely wrong. I think there’s nothing but second acts in America, and I guess I’d say that being an American is that kind of unending faith that there’s yet one more incarnation to make manifest.