Monday, August 19, 2019

The Writing University conducts a series of interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the various University of Iowa writing programs. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.

This year, we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the University of Iowa Press with a special editon of 5Q Interviews of UI Press authors throughout the years. Happy Birthday UI Press!

Today we are speaking with John Havick. Havick has a Ph. D. in political science, and he was a university professor for more than thirty years. He is the author of American Democracy in Transition: A Communications Revolution. He has published a number of articles, including the widely read and cited “The Impact of the Internet on a Television-Based Society.” More recently he has published a popular history: The Ghosts of NASCAR: The Harlan Boys and the First Daytona 500 (University of Iowa Press). He published in the Sunday New York Times an article about a part of the book. The book was chosen at the annual meeting of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association the second best motorsport book published in 2013. You can find him at or



1. Hi John! Do you have a specific project that you will be working on this year?

Yes, and I have been working on the project for more than a year: a film script (I revise and revise) of my book, The Ghosts of NASCAR. I had been writing the script for a few months when a man from LA sent me a contract for the book rights to do a film project. Hollywood usually exploits writers, unless it is a block buster book, so I decided to try to write my own script. Thus, began a long process learning how to write a film script. Most likely I should have signed the contract because filmmaking is a maze.

2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?

I usually write something every day. I have no certain time, and the amount of time depends on the task, but -- There are several types of writers: one type is those who have an inner need to put words on the page, doing so every day, and another type is those who have less need to put the words on the paper. I am the latter kind of writer. My interest is in communicating information, ideas, thoughts, and creations. I do not write unless I have something I really want to put down on the page. Of course, the best writers combine many types.

3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

I read for several reasons. One is improving not only writing skill, but all skill. I believe in learning well what I value so I will return frequently to materials such as: Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer; Susan Bell, The Artful Edit, and an entire DVD course, Building Great Sentences by Brooks Landon (The Great Courses); for film scripts Robert McKee is one of the best; in addition over the last few years I have reviewed pre-calculus, calculus, and several basic Physics textbooks, and other books, such as Hubert Blalock’s Causal Modeling. I read for a brief time every day something technical.

I read less for pleasure than most hard-core writers. Recently, I have read Education and the State in Tsarist Russia, Patrick L. Altston; Roman Blood, Steve Saylor; Andivius Hedulio, Edward Lucas White; Paris: The Biography of a City, Colin Jones; Paris in the Terror, Stanley Loomis; A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles; The Shakespeare Requirement, Julie Schumacher, and right now, The Darwin Affair, Tim Mason, and most weeks, parts of the New Yorker. I also read a lot about current politics. I will add The Shakespeare Requirement is an excellent and incredibly accurate, while humorous, description of university politics. If anything, the book has not portrayed the worst of it.

4. Tell us about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

My youth was in Iowa. As a high school junior, I was elected to the Supreme Court at Iowa Boys State. We sang the song: “We’re from Iowa, state of all the land;” the same song Jean Arthur

sings in the film, “Foreign Affair.” I now live in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I have a wife and two grown children. The Stone Mountain Park is a few miles away, with biking, running, and host of tourist sites. I go to the park frequently for exercise and nature. The life is simple: a library nearby, a live theatre in the village, LA Fitness not far (I do a little basketball and tennis) and a good grocery store. The people I see appear happy to see me. I watch TCM old movies and have even found a few people nearby who also are old movie fans. Atlanta is a big city with all the trappings: cultural attractions, high crime, and all the political corruption one could imagine.

5. The UI Press is turning 50 this year! Share with us a bit about your experience and relationship with the press.

I published a book about Iowans. When I began, I knew parts of the story, but not the entire story. I felt the Iowa Press was a perfect match for the book, and I still feel that way. The book has sold in almost every state in the nation, and was well reviewed in the Journal of American Culture. I believe James McCoy recognized the possibilities in the story, and helped get the book published. I worked closely with Catherine Cocks, an editor at the press at the time (she currently, I believe, is directing the Michigan State University Press.) She worked exceptionally hard and skillfully improving the book, and I can’t say enough about how she helped with the book. It was a very intense six months or so, preparing the book during the revisions with the press (I had written about nine revisions before the Press saw the book). Catherine also calmly put up with me. The people at the press did a great job with such things as the cover for the book and promotion of the book. I am grateful the press decided to publish the book and also for the great job the press did to improve it. As it turned out, I do not believe any other press could have done as well.

The Iowa Press is doing an excellent job. I have purchased other books from the press. They have an interesting list of books. So good luck for another successful 50 years.

Thanks John!


Established in 1969, the University of Iowa Press serves scholars, students, and readers throughout the world with works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. As the only university press in the state, Iowa is also dedicated to preserving the literature, history, culture, wildlife, and natural areas of the Midwest. The UI Press is a place where first-class writing matters, whether the subject is Whitman or Shakespeare, prairie or poetry, memoirs or fandom. They are committed to the vital role played by small presses as publishers of scholarly and creative works that may not attract commercial attention. For more information, please e-mail