Open book with Stacy Schiff

Best-selling and Pulitzer-prize winning author Stacy Schiff has been hailed "the hottest biographer on the block," by Vanity Fair. Schiff, an Adams native who studied art history at Williams College, won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for "V ra," a biography of Vera Nabokov, wife and muse of Vladimir Nabokov, and her "Cleopatra" was No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list. On Friday night, she shared her newest work "The Witches: Salem, 1692," over a farm-to-table dinner at one of Hancock Shaker Village's new Food for Thought dinners. (The next Food for Thought dinner in the series is Friday, Aug. 11, with Elizabeth Kolbert.)

Schiff, who now lives in New York City, answered a few fun book-related questions before her appearance at the Shaker Village in Pittsfield.

Your latest book, "The Witches: Salem, 1692," has been hailed as a great thriller. What book keeps you up at night?

Pretty much everything keeps me up at night. But what keeps me up happily at night? John Galsworthy's "Forsyte Saga," which a friend recommended this spring. How right he was, not only because novels about dynasties on the brink are irresistible, or because these include mock turtle soup and pouter pigeons. They're ridiculously addictive, like second-rate Trollope. I mean that as a compliment. There's a time and place for soft-serve ice cream.

You're known for putting a fresh angle on familiar stories with massive amounts of research to back up your biographies. Which biography have you read that you feel the same way about?

I could name many, but Edmund Morris's prologue to "The Rise of Theodoore Roosevelt" is a particular marvel. We spend New Year's Day, 1907 with TR, beginning at 11 a.m., when he begins to greet the public at the White House. We sense, smell and hear the president before finally we see him. And we will be at his side when — having quietly brushed his teeth and pulled on his blue-stripe pajamas — he climbs into bed that evening.

What books are currently on your nightstand?

Mark Bowden's newly published "The Battle of Hue," because "Black Hawk Down" is a masterpiece and I suspect this one is too. A trio of memoirs, by Patricia Lockwood, Daphne Merkin and Roxane Gay. Sheila Heti's "How Should a Person Be?," which I missed while writing "The Witches," now keeping interrogative company with Matthew Klam's first novel, "Who is Rich?"

Which of your favorite books would people who know you best be most surprised by?

"The Complete Hedgehog" by Les Stocker. Think cat videos three decades before their time.

What was your favorite book as a child?

"Norman the Doorman," followed by "The Mouse and the Motorcycle." Clearly mice were big sellers, as were defiant children: Harriet, Pippi, Eloise. Especially "Eloise in Moscow."

Who is your favorite fictional hero?

Wooster. Or Jeeves. Okay: Wooster and Jeeves. If there's anything P.G. Wodehouse can't cure, I don't know what it is.

Where's your favorite place to get lost in a book in the Berkshires?

The spellbound teenaged encounter with "Dorian Gray" took place in the hammock under the maple tree in my parents' Adams backyard. In a triumph of prose over posture, I read "Speak, Memory" for the first time, cover to cover, on a precarious concrete window ledge in Williamstown, probably when I should have been in class.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions