Where are you from?
Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus are native New Yorkers who've spent their lives working in journalism and higher education. Andrew grew up around Columbia University, where his father was a Dean. Claudia now teaches at Columbia University.
That's the physical place we're from.
Who are your favorite writers?
Claudia: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who I once interviewed for Playboy, Doris Lessing, the middle period when she wrote realistically about art and politics, Tracy Kidder because he writes so cleanly—his book about Paul Farmer changed the world; Gay Talese, who I still teach from—no one ever did non-fiction better; I use him to teach about writing and observing details; Carl Hiassen because he's devilishly funny about serious stuff.
Andrew: I read all around the block. I read a mystery story a week and am lost in admiration for the masters of that genre from Arthur Conan Doyle to James Patterson. I love that we're being published by his publishers.
Which book/books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
This book that we are producing, Higher Education?, is being written as an homage to some of the great popularizing social scientific writers of the 1950s and 1960s—C. Wright Mills, John Kenneth Galbraith, David Reisman, William H. Whyte, Jr., Jane Jacobs and Jessica Mitford. And to hark back to an earlier era, Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell.
We don't write like them. And yet we admire the way they were able to write about tremendously serious subjects and still get a popular audience. You don't see that kind of muckraking/social inquiry often these days—Barbara Ehrenreich' s Nickled and Dimed, is one of the rare exceptions. In our own way, with Higher Education? we hope to replicate what they did.
What are your hobbies and outside interests?
Claudia: I'm afraid I have none. There's no difference between my life and my work. That's true for Andrew, too.
Andrew: Indiscriminate movie going.
Claudia: That's true. He will sit through the most unbelievable stuff! I can't do it. He and a former student of his from Cornell go to junkie movies once a week together.
What is the single best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
Andrew: Clinton Rossiter once told me that when you begin writing and find an audience, your academic colleagues will start sneering behind your back. "Just feel sorry for them," he said.
Claudia: "To go to a certain party at Cynthia and Howard Epstein's house ten years ago, where I became reacquainted with Andrew Hacker. We had met in 1967, in Detroit. He was a young professor and I was a student activist-leader sort of person and we were speaking a conference on (!) university reform. We were both on the same panel. We didn't meet again until 1999 and it's been a brainy love story ever since.
What is your favorite quote?
Claudia: "Life is what happens when you're making other plans," John Lennon sang it.
Andrew: I can't recall one. Oh wait...Woody Allen, "Nine tenths of success is showing up."
What is the question most commonly asked by your readers?
When people hear that Andrew and I are writing a critical book about American higher education, they ask, "When is it going to be published. We NEED this book?"
What is the answer?
What inspired you to write your first book?
Claudia: The fact that I was living in an era, the 1960s—so full of excitement and promise that one had to put the transformations down on paper. In 1971, when I was 26, I wrote, Radical Lifestyles, which was about all the crazy wonderful people who were changing our reality then. Barbara Lowenstein, who is now a famous literary agent, was the editor and she did the most fantastic job on it.
The book party was at Max's Kansas City—and Phil Ochs crashed it, that's how cool it was. I wore a purple floor length dress. My great college professor from NYU and mentor, Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien came to it. The book was well-received and, to my horror, the word "lifestyles," became part of the national lexicon. I hope that won't be my main legacy.
Andrew: My first book was written when I just had started teaching at Cornell University where I was assigned a class in political theory. I found myself extremely dissatisfied with the way the subject was being taught. So my colleague and mentor, Clinton Rossiter, told me that the best way to reform teaching was to write a new textbook, expressing "your new ideas." So I wrote, Political Theory: Philosophy, Ideology, Science, which was published by Macmillian. Higher Education? will be my tenth book.
Where do you write?
Ah, that's an important question to our lives. Where we write, determines how we live. Though Andrew and I are domestic partners, writing means that we don't live together. Our writing vocation demands a lot of space. And we each live in separate apartments; Andrew in Lincoln Center and Claudia in Chelsea. Neutral territory is the Number 11 bus.
There is no apartment in New York big enough to house two writers and their source material. And this book is a big book. We're dealing with nearly 6,000 colleges, junior colleges and universities and millions of professors and ancillary staff, a huge industry. And we're trying to understand what it actually looks like at this moment and what it does. The research material we've collected requires yet a third apartment.