“I have rewritten – often several times – every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasers.” —Vladmir Nabokov

    I’m a writer of fiction and nonfiction. I live in Northern California. I don’t have that gene that makes people afraid of spiders (have they discovered that gene yet?). I’m extremely left-handed.

    My book A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler (HarperCollins), was a national bestseller, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, longlisted for the international Guardian First Book Award, and named a Best Book of the Year by the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and Kirkus Reviews. It was also an impetus for the Holman Prize, awarded annually by Lighthouse for the Blind.

    I’ve also been the inaugural winner of the Van Zorn Prize for emerging fiction writers, sponsored by Michael Chabon, and a contributor to McSweeney’s, The Believer, the Village Voice and other publications. I’m a board member of The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, and a frequent member of their teaching staff.

    I’m a Southern California native, the son of the photographer Anthony K. Roberts and the actress Gloria Neil. My childhood was fairly nomadic, split between California, Hawaii, and the back seat of a Volkswagen bus. I earned a high school diploma at fourteen, then took a six-year hiatus to work as a day laborer, dishwasher and late-night disc jockey, before getting a degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    Santa Cruz is near Silicon Valley, and in the late 80s I was naturally drawn there–some world-changing stuff was going down. I taught myself to program, wandered into an engineering job at Apple Computer, then quit to write books on hardware, software, and multimedia programming languages. I wrote five or six before launching Learn2.com, an early Internet company. You can read more about my techno days here.

    That was a ride. But I was glad to get back to writing books, this time focusing on narrative nonfiction. I’m drawn to forgotten or neglected figures from the past, who, I believe, deserve to be reclaimed as part of our cultural heritage. Given the under-documented nature of my subjects, the work goes necessarily goes slowly, but it’s more than worthwhile. A Sense of the World was the first. Next up is Every Living Thing, forthcoming from Random House. A third nonfiction book is in the works, as is a novel.

    Home is in Marin County, where I’m busy raising two kids, now teenagers. I adopt and fix up old typewriters. I play music–mostly the bass, both upright and electric. My significant other is the journalist and essayist Julia Scott, who does things like slather herself with bacteria, invent Candle Hour, and report from the inside of an iron lung. Life is many things, but boring isn’t one of them.