We Wanna Be Friends With Children's Book Author Mac Barnett


Local author Mac Barnett creates "secret doors" out of stories. Usually, it’s in the form of picture books for children, but he’s also brought his creative genius into the three dimensional world in other ways.

After starting out as an intern for the publishing company McSweeney’s at 826 Valencia, Mac went on to run the nonprofit writers workshop 826LA. There, he mentored aspiring writers and created The Echo Park Time Travel Mart, which is, of course, a convenience store for time travelers. 

For Mac, writing books for children is about the real experience that the fictional stories create. After he creates the story it is “continued by an illustrator, and then by an adult who performs it, before it—hopefully—continues its life inside a kid’s head.” The eagerness to enter imaginary worlds is part of what has inspired his writing. So far, it's worked. He’s already a New York Times bestselling author for his children’s picture book Extra Yarn, which won the 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Picture Books and a 2013 Caldecott Honor. He also pens a series of mystery novels called the Brixton Brothers. Currently he’s working with his friend Jory John on a middle grade novel called The Terrible Two, which comes out in January.

1. What neighborhood do you currently call home? Would you ever move or are you happy in your ’hood?

I live in North Berkeley. There are a lot of good bookstores and the weather’s nice. My dog likes the forests on the hill near my house. I think I’m going to stick around.

2. What’s your hands­down, absolute favorite thing to eat in SF?

A margherita pizza from Pizzeria Delfina.

3. What’s your perfect night on the town?

Not too long ago, a good friend made me buy him a steak dinner to celebrate a book deal (mine), and then we walked from the water up to City Lights, and then to an old bar, and then through five or six neighborhoods, and I’m not sure I’ll ever top that.

4. When you need a low­key afternoon, where do you go for down time?

I take my dog up to Sibley Volcanic Preserve, in Oakland. In the wintertime there are cows there. Henry chases them around and I take their pictures.

5. Where’s your favorite place to go on a day trip to get away from the City?

West Marin with a stop at Miette for some black licorice.

6. What are your three favorite children’s books?

Fish is Fish, Leo Lionni

The Stupids Step Out, Harry Allard and James Marshall

The Important Book, Margaret Wise Brown

7. What was your experience studying under David Foster Wallace at Pomona College?

Like any good teacher, David tried to encourage our individual talents, not create an army of Wallace clones. When I told him I wanted to make children’s books, he warned me that he didn’t know anything about writing for kids. But I didn’t want him to teach me how to write for kids. I just wanted him to teach me how to write.

8. Tell me a little bit about your friendship with Dave Eggers?

It was Wallace who introduced me to McSweeney’s, actually. He knew I was feeling a little sheepish about moving back in with my mom after graduating. I asked him if there was anything cool I could be doing in the Bay Area. He handed me a few issues of the Quarterly and wrote me a letter of introduction. It’s a tale of two Daves—I don’t think I’d have made it as a writer without either of them.

9. In the future, could you see yourself writing adult fiction?

Maybe. If I thought of a story I think would be of interest only to adults, I’d tell it. But I don’t have any ambition to write for adults, if only because I don’t see writing for adults as a more ambitious project.

10. Quick­fire round

­Burrito or Burger: Burrito

Presidio or Golden Gate Park: Golden Gate Park

BiRite or Mitchell's: BiRite

Bike or MUNI: Walk

Fort Mason or Dolores Park: Fort Mason

The Independent or the Fillmore: The Fillmore

Baker Beach or Ocean Beach: Ocean Beach

11. Three words that describe your life in the Bay Area?

I can’t leave.

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