Adam Mansbach , author of Go the Fuck to Sleep and You Have To Fucking Eat , on writing children’s books for adults and making time for his own daughter.
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I wrote Go the Fuck to Sleep in July, 2011, between the hours of 4 and 5 p.m., with no expectations and no pants on. The idea, however, occurred to me several weeks earlier in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Also with no pants on.
My daughter and inspiration, Vivien, was hundreds of miles away. I was in Michigan to teach a weeklong fiction workshop for high schoolers. All the cool kids signed up for the poetry classes; everybody who wanted to write prose was midway through the second chapter of a projected tetralogy about wizards and bisexual angel-dragons and socially awkward wan teenage singer-songwriters. But the gig was not about pedagogy, or trying. It was about drinking hard with friends.
My co-teachers were three of the country's most awesome poets: Patricia Smith, Kevin Coval, and Roger Bonair-Agard. I cannot overstate the individual and collective brilliance of these folks, on the stage and on the page. They are responsible for inspiring thousands of young people to make the awful, life-destroying decision to become poets.
The four of us were being put up in a sprawling Victorian on the tenured side of town; the family who lived there was vacationing and they'd donated it for the week. Patricia immediately claimed the master suite with the claw-foot tub. This went uncontested. The rest of us were all secretly terrified of Patricia, whom we knew less well than we knew each other and who had won a Guggenheim. We suspected that she might be a real adult, the kind who would find our juvenile antics tiresome and ask us to keep the noise down so she could get a decent night's sleep.
This turned out to be wildly off-base. By the time I dropped my bag in the room of a 13-year-old kid who slept on a bed the size of a prison cot and made my way downstairs, Patricia was scouring the pantry for alcohol. We'd been invited to consume whatever was perishable; Patricia astutely pointed out that the bottle of white wine she'd found would not retain its integrity for more than a few hundred years, and pulled the cork.
This was a stopgap measure, though. We needed booze. Roger found a comically small bicycle and headed out in search of rum, because Roger is from Trinidad. I started cobbling together ingredients for a pasta sauce. It was sweltering in there, and Kevin, Patricia and I stripped down to tank tops and shorts and opened another bottle of wine. It's amazing how being given free rein over someone else's house instantly turns you into a teenager whose parents are out of town.
Two things of note happened in the next hour. I made a joke about writing a children's book called Go the Fuck to Sleep that made Kevin and Patricia laugh, so I posted the joke on Facebook and racked up about five likes. And far more importantly, Roger failed to return. We grew concerned. What if he'd been hit by a car, and nobody was bringing rum?
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When we heard the door open, we broke into applause. I shouted, "Took you long enough, motherfucker!" and Patricia and Kevin added profanities of their own.
Into the room strode a man who was not Roger. This was easy to determine, because Roger is a tattoo-covered black dude with a mohawk, whereas this individual was Caucasian, in his seventies, and had a full head of white hair. He looked so patrician that the only logical assumption was that he was a senator.
"Hello!" he said, striding toward us with his hand outstretched, grinning ear to ear, "I'm John! This is my daughter's house! What's your name?"
That was how we knew he was Canadian. If you're American and a senator and you walk into your daughter's house expecting it to be vacant and instead find black and Jewish people standing around cursing and drinking in their underwear, that's not how you react.
Patricia shook his hand and explained who we were and what we were doing there. John thought that was great. "That's great," he said. "Everybody wins!" Yes, we agreed. Everybody.
It turned out that John and his wife, Betty, who walked in a few moments later, had been at a soccer tournament with their grandson, Sam, whose room I was occupying. It was supposed to be a weeklong thing, but Sam's team was hot garbage and they'd gotten bounced the first day, so here they were! Back early!
We were apologetic. Maybe we could find somewhere else to stay, we said. But no! Don't be ridiculous! John and Betty would stay on the foldout bed in the TV room! They always stayed there — they loved it! And Sam could stay in the basement, in a rat's nest of blankets on the floor! Fuck him!
Uh, OK, we said. We'll try not to disturb you. No! they said. You won't disturb us! You can't! Have parties! Be loud! You're poets! You're doing a great thing for the kids! Everybody wins!
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