Faces of Berkeley: Best-selling author finds home in city

Photo: Best-selling author Michael Lewis travels the world as a speaker and a journalist.
Shannon Hamilton/Staff
Best-selling author Michael Lewis travels the world as a speaker and a journalist.

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Faces of Berkeley: Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis, author of "The Blind Side," speaks to The Daily Californian about becoming a writer and finding a home.

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Michael Lewis is a best-selling author, and yet he never wrote for fun, never wrote for a school paper and even admitted he was "vain" about things he wrote for school.

But leaning back in his desk chair in his studio office at his Berkeley home, Lewis now says he cannot imagine doing anything else.

Perfectly situated among shelves of neatly placed books and a floor covered in stacks of paper, Lewis, the Berkeley-based author known for works including "The Blind Side" - the novel-turned-movie that earned Sandra Bullock an Academy Award - admitted he never planned on being a writer. He said he knew people liked reading letters he wrote them, but other than that he did not have much sense of how to entertain people through the written word.

"When I got out of college, I had no idea what I wanted to do," he said. "The first conscious thought I had about being a writer was how do I replicate being in college all the time in the real world?"

Lewis, who grew up in New Orleans, had quite the migration to Berkeley, living everywhere from London to Tokyo before he and his wife settled in what Lewis calls a "community of writers" that houses fellow authors such as Michael Pollan and Michael Chabon.

"Everybody is a writer here," he said. "Michael Pollan lives six or seven blocks up the road. Writers can live anywhere, but Berkeley is the only place other than New Orleans where I have truly felt at home."

Growing up in the South, Lewis said the idea of being a writer was nearly unfathomable. He said his parents had a friend who was supposedly writing a novel, thousands of pages long, that languished in the trunk of the man's car for years because working on a book was "an outrageous idea."

"Books just materialized out of the ether," Lewis said. "No one ever thought that someone actually wrote them."

Lewis attended Princeton University, majoring in art history, and following graduation worked with a New York art dealer before enrolling at the London School of Economics, where he went on to graduate with a degree in economics. He then moved back to New York City to work as a bonds salesman for Salomon Brothers, a Wall Street investment bank.

However, Lewis became weary with his work and eventually quit to write his best-selling book "Liar's Poker" and to become a financial journalist.

Lewis and his wife, former MTV News reporter Tabitha Soren, moved around the world before both agreed to move to Berkeley to take up teaching positions at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Since settling in Berkeley, Lewis has become a full-time writer. When he is not traveling the world giving speeches or cooped up in his office writing books, articles or television pilots, Lewis is just another father, husband and neighbor.

He currently helps run the Albany Berkeley Girls Softball League, in which both of his daughters play. Not only does he coach, but he will also be the commissioner for the league's competitive team this summer.

Walt Gill, the league's president, said he did not think much of it when parents explained that Lewis' busy schedule was due to the fact that he was a writer. He said it was not until he saw Lewis' picture in The San Francisco Chronicle that he realized Lewis was a "well-travelled and famous fella."

"I called him once and I couldn't hear him very well, so I asked where he was," Gill said. "Turns out he was in mountains of Greece interviewing the prime minister."

UC Berkeley senior Andrei Kopelevich said he began reading "Liar's Poker" after he became interested in Wall Street politics from another novel he had read. After finishing the novel, Koplevich said he has not only continued to read Lewis's novels but also Lewis's articles that are regularly published in Vanity Fair Magazine.

"(Lewis) is a genius in the way he describes things," he said. "The stuff he talks about is extremely relevant, and he makes it really understandable."


Katie Nelson is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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