It's safe to say that the world of author Ayana Mathis changed significantly when Oprah Winfrey announced that The Twelve Tribes of Hattie would be the next selection in her Book Club 2.0®. Then the New York Times' own Michiko Kakutani gave Mathis a rave review, something Kakutani doesn't seem normally inclined to do. We got in touch with Mathis to find out what it's like to be Ayana Mathis following all this good news.
Q. Describe Oprah's Book Club 2.0® in one sentence (or, better yet, in 10 words).
A. An impassioned and powerful declaration: Books matter.
Q. What's on your bedside table or Kindle?
A. I'm often reading three or four things at a time, so I invent odd categories to keep them straight. The bedside table is home to read before-bed-but-not-on-the-subway books (heavy hardcovers like Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies), mysteries/thrillers (like Robert Wilson's A Small Death in Lisbon) and things I ought to read but are slooow going (I am now on my fifth month with Augustine's The City of God).
Q. Top three to five favorite books of all time?
Q. Important book you never read?
A. Ulysses. And also Portrait of a Lady, which shames me.
Q. Book that changed your life (or book that made you want to become a writer)?
A. I wrote throughout my childhood and thought I wanted to be a poet, but that was more a fantasy than a goal. I was 15 when someone gave me Sonia Sanchez's, I've Been a Woman—that book was a revolution in my life. I realized that I actually could be a poet, that there were black women who were writing--right then, in that moment.
Q. Memorable author moment?
A. This one? I'm so new to being an author (distinctly different from the solitary enterprise of being a writer) that every moment is unforgettable and stunning.
Q. What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?
A. Anything Wonder Woman can do! Roping bad guys with a lasso of truth, deflecting bullets with my bracelets! Of course, I'd trade all of that for mindreading.
Q. What are you currently stressed about or psyched about?
A. I'm psyched about writing some essays on the nature of faith and belief. Writing essays is a very different process from writing fiction. I'm having a hard time with them, which is incredibly exhilarating and incredibly stressful.
Q. What's your most treasured possession?
A. My grandfather's diaries. He kept them secretly for over fifty years and gave them to me a few years before he died.
Q. Pen envy--book you wish you'd written?
Q. Who's your current author crush?
A. Eudora Welty. There's never a wasted word in her short stories; so much power and meaning packed into a few short pages.
Q. What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?
A. That's an embarrassingly long list: clothes shopping online, returning clothes I've bought online, cooking elaborate time-consuming dinners, farmer's markets, Netflix Instant (grrr, it's ruining my life).
Q. What do you collect?
A. Ways to procrastinate.
Q. Best piece of fan mail you ever got?
A. Oh dear. I've never gotten any. I'm feeling a little inadequate now.
Q. What's next for you?
A. Trying to find a way into my second novel, the idea is there but the rest isn't. Right now it's a bit like stumbling around in a dark room.