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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

Words to Live By: Jason Mott

Words to Live By features exclusive interviews with authors, artists, and community members.

Jason Mott

October 1, 2022

Jason Mott is a bestselling author, National Book Award Winner, and Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction Winner. He has a BFA in Fiction and an MFA in Poetry, both from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He is the author of two poetry collections and four novels: The Returned, The Wonder of All Things, The Crossing, and Hell Of A Book. Jason’s fourth novel, Hell Of A Book was the winner of the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction.

Is there a book or genre that stands out in your memory from your youth?

Mythology and folklore. I grew up loving anything to do with myth – anything with gods, heroes, and monsters. Those stories were formative.

East Columbus Library in Riegelwood, NC

What kind of reader were you as a child?

I was a pretty big reader from a young age. There was a local library where my mom would drop off me and my sister — if my mother had to do grocery shopping, she would drop us off and we would spend time sitting in the library reading books.

What are three children’s books you think should be on every child’s bookshelf?

  1. Black Beauty

  2. Anything by Doctor Seuss: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

  3. Where the Wild Things Are

Book Harvest is proud to practice Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s theory of “Mirrors, Windows, Sliding Glass Doors,” which states that in order to become avid readers and reap the full benefits of lifelong literacy, children have to see both themselves and worlds beyond their own in the stories they read. Is there a book that you saw yourself reflected in as a child? Or one that opened new worlds for you?

As a kid, there weren’t many fiction books in which I saw myself. But there were some nonfiction books that my father had; they were the Ebony Pictorial History of Black America by Ebony Magazine. It was basically Black history in encyclopedia form, and those were the books in which I began to see myself.

The book that expanded by world was Grendel by John Gardner. It took the hero story and inverts it: it’s from the monster’s point of view. It made me want to be a writer because I realized I could tell the stories I wanted to tell, and that I could create the story in which I could finally see myself.

What kind of books are on your bookshelf?

Right now I read a lot of nonfiction. I read a lot of Western and South American philosophy. I just started reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

What are you reading currently?

I tend to juggle multiple books at one time. I will often stop in the middle of a book and return to it later. In addition to Sapiens, I’m about to start On the Origin of Stories – the entire book is why we tell stories from an evolutionary point of view.

What is your favorite place to read?

My favorite place is typically on the couch. The most often place is on airplanes because I travel a lot for work.

What about as a child?

My favorite places was the Riegelwood Library because it had (and has) a railcar so I got to walk into the train and sit in the corner.

Grendel from Beowulf

Who is your favorite all-time character from a book?

Grendel – he’s a complicated character and you both love him and hate him.

Also, Piggy from Lord of the Flies. That’s another story that changed my life. It opened my eyes to what a story could be. It borders on magical realism and is a powerful story about how innocent children can be deeply influenced by what’s around them. It’s one of the only perfect books to exist and I reread it every few years. There are three books I read every few years: Grendel, Lord of the Flies, and October Light.

If you could have dinner with three authors from any period in time, who would you pick?

John Garner, William Golding, Tony Morrison

What are the children in your life currently reading?

Most of the are all grown up, but they all still love Harry Potter.

As someone who grew up in rural North Carolina, do you have any advice for kids in rural areas?

Believe doing things you don’t think you can. I grew up on a dirt road and I still live on a dirt road in a community of 600 people. As a kid, I didn’t think I could make a career writing, but now I am.

We are grateful to Jason for answering our questions! You can learn more about Jason and his work at


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