“One part Lucky Jim and three parts One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Andrew Pessin’s terrific and terrifying novel may just be the great campus novel of our generation.”—Liel Leibovitz, editor at large, Tablet Magazine. Author Andrew Pessin talks to Book Glow about his new novel, Nevergreen.
An academic satire that examines campus cancel culture and the ideological excesses that generate it. A fast, funny look at today’s liberal arts college scene, campus cancel culture, and more! Okay that was two sentences!
What led you to write it?
As a professor I’ve been watching the campus scene for a number of years, becoming increasingly distressed that the university as an institution is under attack (at least in my opinion). Ideally the university should be a place of scholarship, study, learning, a neutral forum where people with different points of view and perspectives engage in civil debate in the shared quest for truth and knowledge. Fulfilling this mission requires maximum academic freedom, and freedom of speech. Instead many campuses are becoming dominated by very narrow ideologies that permit no divergence or dissent, and genuine freedom of speech and of thought are suppressed. If someone disagrees with the orthodoxy it’s no longer enough to debate that person, or “agree to disagree”: that person, or that opinion, must be silenced or eliminated. Or in more popular terminology, the person must be “cancelled.” I wrote this novel as a mode of pushing back against this trajectory.
How long did it take to write?
I do most of my non-academic writing over the summers. This one took two summers, with some work as well during the academic year in-between.
Do you prefer writing in one genre over another?
Nevergreen is my third novel, with three different genres. The first, The Second Daughter, was a dysfunctional family saga taking place from the 1950s through the 1980s. The second, The Irrationalist, was an historical murder mystery based on the tragic life and mysterious death of the famous 17th-century philosopher René Descartes (whose work I study as a professor). And Nevergreen is an academic satire taking place over one day in 2021. I’ve enjoyed writing all three, so apparently the short answer to your question is: no!
What book most influenced your life?
Hard question, because there are so many that have influenced me. Maybe, weirdly, it is Samuel Beckett’s famous strange play, Waiting for Godot, much better to see performed than just to read. Even though my writing style is nothing like Beckett’s, that play inspired me to read all his work, and his work really made me want to write fiction.
Where do you write?
I have a small study in my house. The downside is that there’s typically a lot of chaos in my house, and the study itself offers too many distractions. But it’s a comfortable room and I manage to be adequately productive despite the distractions!
Is there any one thing that especially frustrates you about the writing process?
It takes so long! Nevergreen took “only” a year or so, but it helps that it’s on the shorter side. The Irrationalist was quite a bit longer and took several years. Part of the problem is that I also work as a professor, so I cannot write full-time. On the other hand, though that draws out the writing process it’s probably a good thing for me, overall, because writing really is hard, and I think doing it full-time would be really difficult. And at least this way I can blame how long it takes on the fact that I don’t write full time!
Any advice for novice writers?
Just do it. There are a million reasons not to do it, but just ignore them all and do it. And don’t be afraid of the blank page. Just fill it up. It doesn’t matter what you put there initially, it doesn’t have to be good, but once you fill it up with something, anything, you can get to work on making it better.
I already have a very very rough sketch of my next novel. Top secret, so I can’t tell you the details. But I probably won’t be able to return to it until next summer ….