Q & A with Connecticut Authors: Mark Oppenheimer
September 23, 2022 • Features & News, Q & A

Registration is open for the 2022 Connecticut Book Awards!

When: October 23, 2022 | 3:00-5:00 p.m.
Where: Hartford Public Library


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COVID is still with us, although easing off a little, thank goodness. Did you have a favorite comfort genre to turn to when things were looking bleak? Something that lifted you away and to a different place for a while?

I ended up watching a lot of violent movies, particularly ones with Jason Statham. I have no idea why.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I get my inspiration everywhere: the newspaper, class notes in old alumni magazines, Google searches of lost celebrities from the 1980s. There’s no one source for inspiration, no Old Inspiration Shoppe.

Who made reading important to you?

I have no idea. My parents and grandparents read, so it was modeled. There were books around. But there was no one mentor or inspiring figure. I never had a teacher who turned on the lightbulb. The lights just slowly came up in the room, as if on a dimmer switch.

Tell us your best book-receiving experience. 

In 1999, a new friend, Emily Moore, suggested I read Dave Hickey’s Air Guitar. I can’t remember if she lent me her copy, or just told me I had to get one. That book changed me, and has changed people I have suggested it to since.

If you had the power to invite any writer or artist, dead or alive, for dinner who would you like to have there and why?  

I feel as if having an author from another era — F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Balzac — to dinner is likely to end badly. Not enough common ground, too many missed references. So I’ll go with Terry Castle and Michael Chabon; I could go to northern California, have dinner with both at once. They seem uncensored and fun.

If you could ask one successful author three questions about their writing, writing process, or books, what would they be? 

I have asked enough process questions to know they don’t help. You have to find your own process. I’m always curious how writers with children make time and find balance. I think Ian McEwan has four children, and he is one of my favorite writers. So I’d pepper him with questions about work/life balance, child-rearing, and plot structure (the plot of a book, not of his life).



MARK OPPENHEIMER is the author of five books, including Knocking on Heaven’s Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture and The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia. He was the religion columnist for The New York Times from 2010 to 2016 and has written for The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Mother Jones, The Nation, and The Believer, among other publications. The host of Tablet magazine’s podcast Unorthodox, Oppenheimer has taught at Stanford, Wellesley, and Yale, where since 2006 he has directed the Yale Journalism Initiative. He lives with his family in New Haven, Connecticut.




Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, is one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in the country, known for its tight-knit community and the profusion of multigenerational families. On October 27, 2018, a gunman killed eleven Jews who were worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill–the most deadly anti-Semitic attack in American history. Many neighborhoods would be understandably subsumed by despair and recrimination after such an event, but not this one. Mark Oppenheimer poignantly shifts the focus away from the criminal and his crime, and instead presents the historic, spirited community at the center of this heartbreak.

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