Q&A: Adam Mansbach

Professor, novelist, author of "Go the F**k to Sleep"

Your hilarious new book—a bedtime story about one frustrated parent’s attempts to put his kid to sleep—is blowing up the buzz meter. The legend goes that this project began as a gag on your Facebook page. Yeah, I put up a status thing, like “Look for my forthcoming children’s book called Go the Fuck to Sleep.” I joked around for a couple of weeks with this idea, all the while getting slightly more serious about doing it.

How long have you been in Philly? Two years. I came to do this visiting professorship at Rutgers-Camden.

So you were here that hellish night when your daughter Vivien wouldn’t fall asleep? [laughs] I was living in Mount Airy. It was more of an ongoing process, not one specific night.

Tell me about your first experience reading the book in public. I was asked to participate in the monthly Fourth Wall art salon. I had to follow a tap dancer in her 90s. The reaction was overwhelming. A lot of laughter. The next morning, when I checked Amazon, it was at number 125, which is insane for a book that doesn’t come out for months.

Why do you think it’s resonating? I think it’s cathartic. A lot of the e-mails I’m getting are like, “Thank you for saying what we all feel.”

Any criticism from folks who don’t get the humor? There are a few on message boards, but they get shouted down. The trump card is when some grandmother weighs in. Whenever someone says, “This is the decay of our society, and it’s awful that someone would say such things to a child,” someone always says, “I have seven grandchildren, and you’re an idiot. Shut the fuck up.”

Fox 2000 has optioned the book for a film. How do you see this translating? I haven’t thought it through. I have a meeting with the producer, so I’m eager to hear his thoughts.

Your novels are of serious stuff. Is it strange to get all this attention for a tongue-in-cheek kids book? It is, but on another level, it makes perfect sense. [laughs] There’s always that burst of initial energy that powers you into a novel. The trick is to sustain it. In this case, because it’s so short, I was able to not overthink it.

You got some great blurbs, too. That’s the joy of writing a short book. I hate getting blurbs for novels, because you’re asking busy people to take a bunch of time to read your book and publicly praise you. It’s totally embarrassing. It’s like, c’mon, James Baldwin didn’t have to call up Bernard Malamud and ask him for a blurb.

You’re moving to the Bay Area. Any plans to come back? I’m coming back to Rutgers to do a book launch with the childhood studies department, of all places. —Richard Rys

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of Philadelphia magazine.