Michael Paterniti’s editor called to say that his
collection of essays, "Love and Other Ways of
Dying," had been nominated for a National Book
he heard the news, Paterniti was in his favorite coffee
shop in Portland, Maine, where he lives with his wife
and three children.
kind of hard to do the funky chicken dance," the
writer said. "You’re surrounded by everybody else
with their heads down."
House published the book earlier this year. Paterniti,
51, is also the author of "The Telling Room: A Tale
of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and the World’s Greatest
Piece of Cheese" and "Driving Mr. Albert: A
Trip Across America With Einstein’s Brain."
eldest of four sons, Paterniti grew up in Darien, Conn.
After graduating from Middlebury College at age 21, he
took a job at the advertising firm Doyle Dane Bernbach
almost killed me, having to wear a suit and tie and sit
in a cubicle. That began to shorten my life. I could
feel the blood slowing," the author said in a
task was to count the number of ads in magazines and
compare that to the number of pages with editorial
content. Then, he had to categorize the ads. He got
behind in his work because he kept reading articles in
The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.
lasted just a year and escaped to Cape Cod," he
journalism career began at The Harwich Oracle, where he
covered town meetings and got to interview a
100-year-old woman who had 56 cats.
loved every second there. You went to every town
meeting. You took every picture. You wrote every
editorial. You would take your byline off half the
articles so they would think other people worked
he worked at The Cape Codder newspaper and enrolled in
the writing program at the University of Michigan in Ann
Arbor, where he earned a master’s degree in 1991.
he grew up, his favorite storyteller was his maternal
grandmother, Rose Ells.
of the essays in his latest book recounts the
experiencing of stopping a man from committing suicide
by jumping off a bridge in Nanking, China. Another
re-creates former French President Francois Mitterrand’s
last meal in a rustic dining room in France. Paterniti’s
other pieces examine the aftermath of a plane crash off
the coast of Nova Scotia, an earthquake in Haiti and a
tsunami in Japan.
and his wife, who is also a published author, started
The Telling Room, a nonprofit center for storytelling in
Portland, Maine. The inspiration came from an experience
he had while reporting in the Sudan.
were at a food drop. People were starving. They had to
wait all night while the U.S. counted the bags that had
been dropped. This chief of the Dinka tribe stood
up" and sang until food was distributed. As the
chief sang the entire story of the tribe and his
village, Paterniti said, "the crowd around him got
bigger and bigger."
Sudanese and Somalian immigrants have settled in
were interested in creating a moment where they would
tell their coming to America stories. We worked closely
for a year with a bunch of kids who were learning
English. We felt more connected to this community for
having done it. Once you know your neighbor’s real
story, you can’t help but feel invested in them,"
Mr. Paterniti said.
he said, The Telling Room has 10 employees and serves
2,500 children from ages 6 to 18 each year.