Adam Hochschild

How did you become a writer?

I began as a daily newspaper reporter, with dreams, not fulfilled, of becoming a novelist. I began to find my voice doing magazine-length articles and personal essays, then have spent most of the last 35 years writing nonfiction books.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

The best teacher I ever had was Prof. Albert Guerard, who taught a justly famous course on the modern novel. He was particularly interested in the process of how a writer finds his or her right voice and subject matter. Many writers have inspired me: Tolstoy, Chekhov, Orwell, the list could go on for a long time. A particular favorite of mine, not so well known: Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet novels about the last days of British India.

When and where do you write?

Whenever I can! I used to think that writers could only work in a quiet room, in the morning, with no distractions. But once I had children, I realized you have to seize every moment you can. Before they get up, when they’re sleeping, on airplanes, wherever.

What are you working on now? 

Some articles and book reviews while I try to figure out what my next book will be.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

Not really. But I have terrible subject-matter block. Sometimes it takes me a year or two to figure out the subject for my next book. There are many things I’m interested in, but figuring out how to write something different from the book or books that made me interested is always difficult.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Don’t quit your day job—now, or possibly ever. Be relentless in asking others to read what you write, and give you frank and honest feedback. Any time you encounter something that moves and inspires you—book, short story, article, radio piece, film—go back over, take it apart, figure out how it was put together and what you can learn from it.

Adam Hochschild’s writing has usually focused on human rights and social justice. His books include King Leopold's Ghost: a Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa, which won a J. Anthony Lukas Award in the United States, and the Duff Cooper Prize in England. Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. For the body of his work, he has received awards from the Lannan Foundation, the American Historical Association, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. His Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 appeared in 2016.