“Writing Basically Constantly”: Alumni Interview with Matthew Baker ’08

Matthew Baker ’08 is coming to town, and the English department snagged an interview with our New York City-dwelling Hope alum and ascendant professional writer.

Baker’s works include the middle-grade mystery novel If You Find This (2017) and the story collection Hybrid Creatures (2018), from which he’ll be reading at JRVWS on Thursday the 27th. Three of his stories have been optioned for the screen by Amazon, an independent studio, and Netflix–the most recent causing a “bidding stampede”!

So, what are you doing now? We’ve heard the headlines, of course.

Writing—writing stories, writing novels, writing screenplays, writing comics—writing basically constantly.

Not bad advice for aspiring writers at Hope. Speaking of which, how did your Hope English education shape you?

I’m most grateful for two things: having had the opportunity to volunteer as an editor for Opus, and having had the opportunity to take Modern English Grammar, which at the time was taught by Rhoda Janzen [now Burton]. Every writer should take a grammar course and learn how to diagram sentences. I very passionately believe that. You can’t break the rules if you don’t know what the rules are to begin with.

I also did an independent study on graphic novels with Beth Trembley, which had an enormous effect on me as a writer. Curtis Gruenler’s course on the history of the English language was essential. Jack Ridl taught me sage wisdom about poetry. Heather Sellers taught me sage wisdom about fiction. Kathleen Verduin let me sleep in a spare room in her basement one summer when I didn’t have anywhere to live.

Also, Julie Kipp during class once made an offhand remark that films were literature too and that as students of literature all of us had an obligation to study film history (I think she was upset that nobody in the class had ever seen Apocalypse Now) and I actually took that to heart and I did—that summer I rented over a hundred classic films from Van Wylen Library, and I can say that despite being an unofficial assignment, that was probably the most important assignment I was ever given.

What advice would you give to current English majors or students considering an English major?

Subscribe to The Paris Review.

Intriguing! Current students may be pleased to know that the Van Wylen Library subscribes, if they want to check out the latest issue. Tell us, if you could teach any English class, what would be the title?

I actually do—I teach an advanced writing workshop once a year at NYU, called Hybrid Fictions. It’s a workshop in which students exclusively read and write interdisciplinary fiction: stories that incorporate subject-specific language, forms, and concepts from other fields of study. For instance, Margaret Luongo’s “A Note on the Type,” which is structured as a series of notes about fictional typefaces, drawing on the field of typography.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

In college my most treasured book was The People of Paper, primarily because one of the characters in the novel is a mechanical tortoise that speaks entirely in binary, which is just marvelous.

Thanks to Matthew Baker for giving us a taste of what to expect on Thursday. Students, faculty, and community members alike: be sure to attend his free reading!

9/27 @ 3:30 p.m. – Q&A in the Martha Miller Center
9/27 @ 7:00 p.m. – reading in the Jack Miller Center followed by reception