As a novelist, Adam Mansbach had been doing all right. His Angry Black White Boy (Broadway) was named a best book of 2005 by the San Francisco Chronicle, and The End of the Jews (Spiegel & Grau) won a 2008 California Book Award. And although Mansbach now considers it among the fond embarrassments of his youth, even his 2002 debut, Shackling Water (Anchor), was good enough for Library Journal to liken him to James Baldwin. So it seemed like the last thing Mansbach needed to do was swerve into new literary territory, particularly the limited realm of children’s books which are actually for adults and are premised on Facebook jokes. But he just couldn’t stop himself from writing Go the Fuck to Sleep (Akashic), and couldn’t believe it became a sensational bestseller.
Nowadays, between taking up consequent opportunities (Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellowship, CBS sitcom pilot, Samuel L. Jackson-powered pro-Obama video), Mansbach still writes novels. His newest is Rage Is Back (Viking), summed up by its author with tender pride as “my magic-realist graffiti revenge novel.” As befits his musical affinities and his background as an MC, Mansbach has what you might call a hip-hop accent. Also, for a literary writer, he’s refreshingly unabashed about using profanity in conversation. On the phone a while ago, he chatted for a few minutes about his writing life.
ZYZZYVA: First, may we talk about your last book, and how its success affected you?
Adam Mansbach: It’s certainly affected my career in a lot of ways. It was a lark. It was never something I anticipated. The way the book sells continues to amaze me. It’s given me confidence in my own crazy tossed-off ideas. Not that every joke I make is going to lead to anything. Sometimes a thing can be very visceral, and just work. On a practical level it has opened up a lot of opportunities. I’d been getting a lot of “We love it, but we’re not going to buy it.” But now they can slap on “New York Times bestselling author,” and that helps. Right now I’m really focused on Rage is Back. So it’ll be interesting to see whether the million people who bought Go the Fuck To Sleep will get into this. I’m being realistic. This kind of thing doesn’t carry over. That’s a frustration of mine. We support the project; we don’t do such a good job of supporting the artist.