Literary Hub

Meet National Book Award Finalist Adam Winkler

The 2018 National Book Awards will be held on Wednesday, November 14 at the 69th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. In preparation for the ceremony, and to celebrate all of the wonderful books and authors nominated for the awards this year, Literary Hub will be sharing short interviews with each of the finalists in all five categories: Young People’s Literature, Translated Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction.

Adam Winkler’s We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights, a history of how corporations came to be treated as people in this country, is a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Nonfiction. Literary Hub asked Winkler a few questions about his book and his writing life.


Who do you most wish would read this book? (your boss, your childhood bully, Michelle Obama, etc.)

My parents, relatives, friends, and colleagues—and other people just like them. I try to write for the circles of people nearest to me, most of whom are not lawyers or academics. If they find the book engaging and interesting, I’ve succeeded. Of course, it would be nice to have the justices of the Supreme Court read it too since it is the story of how corporations won their constitutional rights.

Who was the first person you told about making this list?

I told my wife Melissa, who patiently worked with me through the challenging times of writing We the Corporations. She’s my biggest fan and best advisor. We were both completely dumbfounded. Then I called Kenneth Karst, my 89-year-old mentor who taught me so much about writing, teaching, and scholarship.

Which book(s) do you return to again and again?

Rarely does a week go by that I don’t find myself reading at least a bit of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. Even if you only read a few pages, you will always learn something about the fundamental discoveries of modern science and be entertained by a good story.

If you have a day job, what is it? How do you negotiate writing and working?

My job as a professor allows me time to write, especially in the summers. Protecting my writing time nonetheless requires diligence and discipline. There are always temptations to do something else, especially when writer’s block sets in. That, however, is the time to write more. When the offers come, just say no.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

The playwright Israel Horovitz, an old family friend, advised treating writing like a job: sit down at scheduled hours and write, day in, day out. You can’t wait for inspiration. You can’t wait for the great sentence to come. You have to put in the hours writing, editing, and rewriting.

What changes do you see the Supreme Court making in the next few years to further corporatize American personhood?

The Supreme Court is set to take a strong turn to the right and we are likely to see more judicial hostility to regulation, especially speech regulations on business. We are also likely to see the Supreme Court expand the religious rights of corporations, including allowing businesses to refuse to serve same-sex couples. Corporate rights are only going to continue to expand in the coming years.

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