Dirtbag, Massachusetts: A Confessional will hit shelves in May.
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Isaac Fitzgerald
Credit: credit: Maddie McGarvey

Isaac Fitzgerald has been a children's book author, a firefighter, and a Today show contributor (in but a small sampling of his résumé). Now he can add memoirist to the list. His latest book, Dirtbag: Massachusetts: A Confessional (due May 3, 2022), will be a collection of essays about his personal life told through the lens of his constant work to become a better man. EW has exclusive details on the book, starting with a first look at the cover (below).

In the collection, Fitzgerald — who was also the founding editor of Buzzfeed Books — will reflect on his childhood spent in a Boston homeless shelter, his bartending stint in San Francisco, and his induction into the New York City literary world. Expect to examine issues like poverty, addiction, and body image, all through the guise of a search for a version of masculinity free of entitlement. But let's allow the author himself to elaborate: Here, Fitzgerald answers EW's burning book questions to give us insight into his writing process and what to expect from Dirtbag, Massachusetts.

whats-in-a-page

What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?

It's probably not the first thing I ever wrote, but it certainly was the first thing I wrote that made an impact. In the second grade at Our Lady of Lourdes — a Catholic school in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts — I scribbled the word "SEX" in green crayon across the top of a blue plastic pencil box. Was the pencil box mine? It was not. The teacher (a nun) sent me to the principal's office (also a nun), pencil box in hand, but I opted instead to go to the bathroom and use my uniform's clip-on tie to scrub the word off. I returned to class wearing a wet tie, handed the vulgarity-free pencil box to its rightful owner, and miraculously avoided getting yelled at by any nuns.

What is the last book that made you cry?

No One Is Talking About This, by Patricia Lockwood. A novel told in fragments that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. You'll be crying tears of laughter along with your tears of sorrow.

Dirtbag Massachusetts
The cover for 'Dirtbag Massachusetts: A Confessional,' by Isaac Fitzgerald
| Credit: Bloomsbury

Which book is at the top of your current to-read list?

I am lucky enough to have a galley of Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead (out Sept. 14). Full disclosure, I started it recently, so it's not technically on my to-read list. But I am reading it slowly, letting Whitehead's language and storytelling wash over me. Like a treasured delicacy that I don't want to eat in one sitting.

Where do you write?

Wherever I can. I have a desk in my apartment, but more often than not I'm writing while lying down on the couch, or even in my bed. But most of my writing is done while I'm moving around. Walking the streets of New York City. I'm better when I move. So I am always jotting down notes and thoughts throughout the day in one of my many beat-up notebooks that I carry with me.

Which book made you a forever reader?

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake. Pancake was writing from Virginia, and I was growing up in rural Massachusetts when I first read it, but that was the first book that made me feel seen. That my stories might also have some value. I have given away more copies of it than any other book, and continue to do so to this day.

What is a snack you couldn't write without?

I do my damnedest not to eat while I'm writing because, as mentioned above, I'm often lying down on my couch or in bed. But I do tend to chew on toothpicks, averaging about a box every two weeks.

If you could change one thing about any of your books, what would it be?

I'm always tinkering, always trying to make my writing better, but at some point you have to let go and let God. So, for my own peace of mind, I'm going to sit this question out. Down that path lies madness.

What is your favorite part of Dirtbag, Massachusetts?

I love writing about the relationships that strengthen us. Writing about my childhood, teenage years, and 20s, there are many difficult memories. But I can also see how, along the way, so many people were trying to help me. Remembering those people, and writing about them, comforts me.

What was the hardest element to write?

There's quite a lot of hard topics covered in this book, including family violence. I wanted to make sure that I was empathetic towards everyone I was writing about, even if some were adults making extremely bad decisions at the time. 

Write a movie poster tag line for the book: 

Like Good Will Hunting, but dumber.

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