Matthew Quick’s latest work, ’96, HON ’13, comes just as the film based on his most famous novel celebrates 10 years since its theatrical release.
Matthew Quick, ’96, HON ’13, La Salle alumnus and author of The Silver Linings Playbookcaught the writing bug very early.
“I started writing in elementary school and something inside me lit up,” he said.
The Oaklyn, NJ native recalls an elementary school teacher praising a short story he wrote. It was both exciting and terrifying.
“Letting people peek inside my head was dangerous for the younger me and still does,” he said. “But I think I also wanted, and still want, to connect with the wider world. In many ways, I was a lonely kid. I’m still introverted by nature. Writing was and is my attempt to build bridges.
Quick, who specialized in secondary education and English in La Salle, is the author The Silver Linings Playbook. The novel was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 2012 starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
Quick’s latest novel, we are the lightis available November 1. He talked about his time at La Salle, his latest work and his writing process.
What did your time and education at La Salle help to build on?
I mostly grew up in Oaklyn, NJ, which is a place full of beautiful people, and in the 1980s it wasn’t a community that actively encouraged the kind of inner growth I craved. La Salle was a womb for me – a four-year safe container in which I could explore different aspects of my personality, while being exposed to different religious perspectives and Brother Lawrence Colhocker’s Bildungsroman course, Justin’s creative writing courses Cronin and Helena White. Theater now class. That’s where I played in an indie rock band for a few years. This is where I lay up all night philosophically chatting with other budding young men and women. And that’s where I fell in love with my wife, Alicia Bessette, ’97. My time at La Salle helped me begin to understand who I was meant to be. And there is nothing more important than that.
What (or who) has been a positive influence on campus?
In addition to those I have mentioned, Carole Freeman, Ph.D., has strongly influenced my teaching philosophy. My education buddies and I all looked up to and looked up to him. Charles White’s Jazz and Classical Music Appreciation classes grew the soul and spirit. Here’s a story for you: I’m about to speak at a panel with Justin Cronin in Denver this fall at the MPIBA Fall Conference—Bestsellers for Breakfast Keynote Authors.
“My time at La Salle helped me start to understand who I was meant to be. And there’s nothing more important than that.”
Justin and I have been in contact over the past year, and I zoomed in with his creative writing students at Rice University. Finding my first creative writing teacher will be a moment. All of us hopeful young writers looked up to Cronin. As La Salle’s writer-in-residence, he was a true working storyteller. I had never had access to a real novelist before. Watching him go on to win awards and then later be anointed by Stephen King on a famous morning TV show made me believe in the possibility. It is a powerful thing to give to your students. I would like to add that (English teacher) Kevin Harty has supported me over the years. He was one of Alicia’s favorite teachers when she was at La Salle. I didn’t know Kevin until after I graduated. I would have liked to experience him as a teacher.
You also received an honorary degree from the University. How was this moment?
I had a minor nervous breakdown in the spring of 1996 – just at the end of my trip to La Salle – and skipped my degree to recuperate in the mountains of Vermont. I think my parents called the school to make sure I had graduated. Brother Colhocker, with whom I sometimes talked about movies, kindly tried to convince me to attend the graduation ceremony, saying that I needed closure and that I would one day regret not going. . But I was young, arrogant and hurt. I couldn’t hear his sage advice despite the pain I was feeling at the time. When I returned to La Salle nearly two decades later and gave my honorary address, I realized that Brother Colhocker was right. I still needed closure. And the young man inside middle-aged Matthew Quick was deeply moved by the reminder from the University for him to heal. My beloved grandmother was ninety years old at the time and was very proud to see me accept an honorary degree. And my parents finally got to see me graduate, so to speak, which was also wonderful. I remain eternally grateful.
Almost 10 years have passed since the theatrical release of Silver Linings Playbook. What was it like watching your novel become a movie?
I’ve been answering this question for over a decade and I don’t think I’ll ever get it right. It was wonderful, heady, strange, confusing and overwhelming. There are so many worthy novels that would make great movies. Why did the collective choose mine? Why did all the stars align? We’ll never know. I had another novel turned into a Netflix movie, and I wrote a bunch of screenplays. Recently, I have settled back into writing novels. I feel more comfortable these days.
The Silver Linings Playbook discusses mental health and bereavement, among other heavy topics. But it also provides humor and joy. How does your work find a balance between the two? Do you think these themes helped the work resonate with so many people?
The Jungian (therapy) work I’ve been doing lately teaches that whenever something manifests in the world, the opposite also manifests. There would be no joy without sorrow and no health without sickness. Those of us who love have an equal capacity to hate. Those of us who hate, of course, have the seeds of love within. It’s just the truth. I think it’s an artist’s job to tell the truth as best he can. All of my work is born out of personal joys and struggles, terrible ups and downs, from the full spectrum of life. Sometimes people see nuances of their own truths in my work and say it makes them feel less alone. Other writers have done this for me many times, so I’m always grateful whenever I was able to make others feel seen. Seems useful to me and worth doing.
What inspired your next novel, we are the light?
The book is not about drug addiction. But I got 100% sober in June 2018, and then felt a surge of emotional pain that alcohol had seemingly kept at bay for decades. It was a lot to manage. I coped at first by running, sometimes fifteen or even twenty miles a day. And I experienced crippling writer’s block that lasted for years. It was emasculating. I fought hard, dutifully sitting at my desk for hours every morning, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t write anything good, let alone publishable. I have been speaking publicly about my anxiety and depression since 2008 when I first published Silver Linings. But I had also privately consumed alcohol a little to cope with it all. I had never had therapy of any kind. Eventually I broke down and, with Alicia’s help, I humbled myself and entered into Jungian analysis. I immediately bonded with my analyst in a way that made me feel dependent. And I developed a fear of being abandoned. I started to worry that my analyst might die or, even worse, dump me before our job was done. Eventually I did what I always do with my mental health issues and dragged this phobia into the creative writing wrestling ring and tried to twist and bend it into a manuscript. He didn’t cooperate – at all. But I kept trying, and maybe a hundred hours into my analysis, I started writing about Lucas Goodgame, whose Jungian analyst drops him on the front page, when where Lucas needs him most.
You note in your letter from the author that this novel is different from your previous ones. How was the process of writing this novel different?
The novel tells how a small traumatized community comes together to heal. They use history and art to do this, along with the friendliness of old-fashioned neighbors. When I got sober, my world got tiny. And all my difficult emotions intensified. My instinct was to hide, to be a hermit running around the woods all day. But there were people who didn’t want to abandon me. My wife, Alicia, was a rock. My friend Kent Green and I started a two-person film club where we took turns choosing films to review together.
“I think it’s an artist’s job to tell the truth as best he can. All of my work is born out of personal joys and struggles, great highs and terrible lows, the full spectrum of life.
My friend Matt Huband and I started having lunch once a week. And my brother, Micah, and I started having phone conversations every Saturday morning. These seemingly minimal ties were crucial lifelines when I was first sober. The stability of my wife, my male friends and my family members has been an essential part of my recovery. And so, I knew that recently traumatized Lucas (book character) – even though he’s not an alcoholic – would also need some small but nice lifelines. He would also need an assignment and finds one when an 18-year-old boy named Eli sets up a tent in Lucas’ backyard and then asks Lucas to finish the consulting job he was doing with Eli at the local high school. The book explains how art and friendship can help us transcend even the worst in life. I bled for all my novels, but I never bled so much as writing We Are the Light. It’s been a trip.
Overall, what do you hope readers take away from your novels?
I was not raised Catholic, and as an undergrad, I probably didn’t have the proper respect for La Salle’s religious underpinnings. With regard to La Salle’s Catholic heritage, I have just removed this line from the University’s website mission statement: “These traditions inspire us to integrate scholarship into the various academic fields with the aim to understand the world around us in such a way as to bring people together in relation to the transcendent”. Both my sobriety and the Jungian work gave me a deeper appreciation of transcendence. We Are The Light reflects this change. My team and I are trying to enlighten the world with this novel. I hope my fellow explorers will join us.