An interview with Miriam Markowitz

Matt Jakubowski in Truce:

Before we discuss your work at Harper’s and The Nation, I’d like to ask about the early years of your career. Were there specific experiences that drew you toward a life in letters, as they say? What convinced you that this was the kind of work you wanted to pursue when you were first starting out?

Markowitz2I had a pretty happy childhood that was clearly divided into Life and Books, the latter being as vivid and immersive for me as the former. My mother is a huge reader and took me to the library every week when I was little; at a certain point she decided to have the bus drop me and my sister off at the local branch after school, because libraries are not just repositories of knowledge but also some of the only places you can stick a latchkey kid without people calling the police.

There were no restrictions on what I could read. My upbringing in a hippied-out racially integrated neighborhood in Philadelphia wasn’t very structured, and I was terrible at sports. I liked to play with the neighborhood kids, dress up, and produce ridiculous plays with my sister. My mother worked a lot but she took us to museums and festivals and children’s concerts on weekends, so I was actively engaged with the world outside of home and school and extremely curious about it.

By the time I finished high school I was pretty done with “being taught.” I went to college to read primary sources and not textbooks. I wasn’t a specialist, and didn’t think learning specific types of methodologies was all that useful. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life studying minutiae and writing boring papers with colons in their titles, but I did want to continue to learn.

After college most of my friends went to grad school and I went on an adventure, traveling and working abroad. I was a cook and housekeeper in Mallorca and a newspaper editor in Hanoi.

More here.