Author Interview: Matthew Baker

Equal parts speculative and satirical, the stories in Why Visit America form an exegesis of our current political predicament, while offering an eloquent plea for connection and hope. We spoke with author Matthew Baker about the inspiration for the collection, the convenience of audiobooks on the NYC subway, and more.

“Only Matthew Baker could create stories that are so unique, so stylistically adventurous, and manage to contain it within a single collection….It’s both a love letter and critique of the world we live in and the world that awaits us.”

Kevin Wilson, author of Nothing to See Here 

Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.

The book began as a concept: thirteen parallel-universe stories (one for every stripe in the flag) that would span all fifty states of the country, and that together would create a composite portrait of the real United States: a Through The Looking Glass reflection of who we are as a country.

In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise listeners about your audiobook?

Although all of the stories in the book are speculative, as the book moves from universe to universe the stories are also crossing between different genres: there’s a bildungsroman, a rom-com, a western, dystopian fiction, utopian fiction, fantasy, horror, erotica, even a noir detective mystery. I like to think of the collection as a guidebook, and I loved the idea that the collection wouldn’t just take readers on a tour of America geographically, but would also take readers on a tour through American genres.

Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?

It’s being recorded as we speak*—I can’t wait to hear it. The first story in the book includes a number of invented words, and I’m very curious to hear how the words ended up being pronounced aloud.

Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?

I moved to New York City a few years ago, and first got into audiobooks because of the subway. I’d imagined the subway would be a perfect place to read, but quickly discovered that the trains were usually too crowded to sit, and that flipping pages while holding onto a pole was too difficult. So I started listening to audiobooks on the subway instead. And I’m very glad that I did. One of my favorites is Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which is read by the author herself—there’s something so magical about hearing the novel in her voice.

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

I’m profoundly grateful to indie bookstores, because I’ve met many readers who discovered my books only thanks to the recommendation of an enthusiastic bookseller. My first book was a children’s novel titled If You Find This, and that book was supported in particular by Colleen Kammer at Book Beat in Detroit; as an obscure debut writer who’d grown up in Michigan, I was really moved by that. I can’t possibly express how much her support meant to me.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

If you enjoy the stories in Why Visit America and are looking for something similar to listen to next, I’d wholeheartedly recommend Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Ted Chiang’s Stories Of Your Life and Others, Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body And Other Parties, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

Note: Check out our Author Interview with Emily St. John Mandel here.

*at the time of this interview

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