Andrew Harwell is an Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, focusing on middle grade and young adult fiction. He especially loves novels that take risks and play for keeps, and his favorite books are genre-benders held together by alchemical prose.
At Harper, Andrew has the privilege of working with such genius authors as Dan Gutman, Heather Brewer, J. Scott Savage, Noelle Stevenson, Madeleine Roux, and many more. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Andrew is a piano player, a gamer, and a film fanatic.
Let’s see how Andrew answers the Proust Questionnaire!
What is your idea of happiness?
My idea of happiness is much like Zadie Smith’s idea of “joy” (as opposed to “pleasure”), from the 1.10.13 New York Review of Books: “a strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight” that comes from truly loving other people and finding meaning in one’s work.
What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it?
“Us” by Regina Spektor. A friend introduced me to her music with the song “Samson” just days before I was to spend a summer in Germany, and it was a beautiful song but also very sad. I listened to it on repeat throughout my ten-hour flight and worked myself into a kind of funk, already missing my friends and wondering why I wanted to spend a summer studying alone, anyway. But this was my first time living abroad, it wasn’t supposed to be sad! So as soon as I arrived in Freiburg and found a WiFi hotspot, I downloaded more of her music, and when I first heard “Us,” it was a revelation. Missing friends could be a happy feeling, too, I realized. A “Yes, and” moment. And the refrain spoke to me: “We’re living in a den of thieves, rummaging for answers in the pages.”
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could play the piano by ear. I do play the piano, and after many years of practice, I can even tromp my way through a few songs in very loud imitations of what they are meant to sound like. But even those songs required me to puzzle out each measure one chord at a time; I so wish I could hear a song and channel it, sight unseen.
On what occasion do you lie?
In the elevator at work. Someone will ask me something simple like, “What are you doing this weekend?” and, in the sheer terror of trying to complete a coherent answer in ten seconds or less, I’ll start babbling things that are only half-true, maybe, and then get off on my own floor cringing at the memory of my voice.
What is your present state of mind?
What is your motto?
Via Tina Fey and my own years doing improv: “Greet everything with ‘Yes, and….’”
What character trait do you most value in your friends?
It’s either imagination or it’s a sense of humor, so to answer this question, I’ll say “an imaginative sense of humor.”
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Point being…” I’ve always felt this need for the things I say to have a point, even if it means I’d better figure out what it is while I’m talking. Hence this expression, which I overuse as a segue / stalling technique.
Your favorite painting?
I’m going to say “Phoenix with Crutches” by Sophie Blackall, since her use of Chinese inks and watercolors qualifies it as a painting. Phoenixes have always had special significance to me, and a print of this painting was the first piece of art I ever bought with my own money.
What is your favorite journey?
The flight home.
What is your favorite time of day?
When it isn’t day at all, but late at night, and everyone else is asleep.
What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
A well-organized mind, with deference to Dumbledore.
Who or what is your first love?
What’s the last dream you remember?
I was in my high school calculus class, and I couldn’t remember how to do natural logarithms. I have multiple interpretations of what I think this dream meant, and none of them are very interesting.
What’s your madeleine?
Christmas, in all its smells, sights, and rituals. I love that everyone essentially agrees to believe in magic for a month, putting up colored lights on their houses and listening to bizarrely earnest music. When I was a kid, I would hide in the corner behind our Christmas tree for hours, imagining I was tiny and friends with the Nutcracker ornaments. Every year at Christmas, I feel like that kid again.
Without thinking, in one word: what is life?