Who is “Jeopardy Amy”? Don’t be too quick to buzz in.
Amy Schneider is a Jeopardy Master, second on the all-time leader board with 40 consecutive wins, and, with some $1.6 million in total earnings, the winningest woman in show history. As a fan, I’ve loved watching her play — lightning quick with a bottomless mixed bag of knowledge. But while other fan faves like “Jeopardy James” Holzhauer and Cambridge’s Matt Amodio are cards at the podium, Schneider’s always been more reserved — until now.
With “In the Form of a Question,” out Tuesday, the champ shows us her sense of humor and peels back her pearls-wearing “Jeopardy!” persona to share her real-life experiences — including dabbling in drugs, awkward sex moments, and cringe-worthy wonder-years memories.
No scar is left unpicked — and with wit — in chapters like: “How Did You Lose Your Virginity?” “What is Polyamory?” “So If You’re Trans, Does That Mean You Like Guys?” ”When Did You Know You Were Trans?” “Okay Then, So What Have Your Experiences with Drugs Been Like?”
I called Schneider, 44, ahead of her Harvard Book Store event at First Parish Church on Thursday. The Ohio native will return to Boston for the first time since childhood, she told me. (“We drove through Boston on vacation,” she said. “All I remember is my dad being very frustrated with the traffic.”)
What sparked you to want to tell your story now?
After my “Jeopardy!” run, I had a literary agents asking if I wanted to write a book. But I didn’t want to just write about “Jeopardy!” I didn’t expect it to be as much of a memoir as it turned out to be.
Who did you see as your audience? In the book’s intro, you warn kids to “ask their parents” before reading.
Right [laughs]. A few people. I was concerned that I was this representative to a lot of people, especially “Jeopardy!” people — that I was the first trans person they’d actually known — and they’d seen the most cleaned-up version of myself. I [thought], ‘Are they going to look at the next trans person they come across and [compare] them to this idealized version of myself that isn’t even accurate?’ Those fans may be startled — I don’t know if they’ll all like [the book] or not — but I wanted to avoid the possibility of being used as a cudgel to attack other trans people. Another audience [of readers] is trans people or people questioning. I was thinking: What do I wish I’d known?
You wrote that you thought your cousin was “a real trans person” for knowing at age 5 or 6. You write: “I’d never demanded to wear a dress when I was a kid, so I must not be trans. You can’t suddenly be trans in your thirties! So what was I?”
I believed that story about trans people. Of all things that I wish I’d known earlier, that’s the biggest. Growing up, a lot was predicated on a cultural/religious background that taught me my body was something to feel bad about. I look back now and recognize hints that I identified as female — they just read to me then as, ‘Of course I feel bad about my body, I’m supposed to.’
Was writing the book cathartic?
To an extent. It was tough at times. More emotional than I expected. But it’s been healthy; thinking about things I hadn’t thought of in a long time and coming to a different kind of peace with them.
You wrote that you didn’t know whether to reveal your deadname for a while, but decided to in chapter three.
I went back and forth. Ultimately, it came down to the realization that it’s out there, public information. That’s always going to be a fact about me. As uncomfortable as seeing that name makes me, it’s something I can’t avoid.
You also wrote that you don’t remember how you decided on the name Amy.
It’s odd to me that I don’t remember that moment. It was like I’d always known — which is quote-unquote how it’s supposed to feel. It clicked.
Did you come up with the book title?
I did. I was very excited, I have to say. I was like: crushed it.
You wanted to be on “Jeopardy!” since you were young.
Absolutely. I was voted most likely to be on “Jeopardy!” in eighth grade. It’s always been something I was assuming was going to happen someday.
As a lifelong fan, was there anything that surprised you when you got on the show?
How completely a non-factor my being trans was during the course of the show. I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal but I thought there’d be something awkward at some point, and there never was. An even better surprise was that I got so much less backlash once my episode started airing. I didn’t have a whole bunch of people yelling at me online — a few, but less than expected.
You were mugged randomly, and it quickly ended up in headlines. You said that felt strange.
That was a turning point in realizing that my life was, in fact, different now. Here it is coming up on two years [since my first episode] and people are still interested. Early on, I kept saying to [my wife] Genevieve, “Once all this slows down, we’ll worry about X, Y, Z.” At one point, she was like, “You need to stop saying that. It’s not slowing down.”
Where do you see your journey going from here?
My biggest hope is this book is successful enough that I get to write another one. Beyond that, there’s a podcast I’m hoping comes to fruition. And I want to get more public and vocal talking about trans people and fighting against the terrible things that are happening. At the very least, talking about it more, trying to humanize people who are suffering.
Amy Schneider, Thursday, 7 p.m., First Parish Church, 1446 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. $40 includes book. harvard.com/index.php?/event/amy_schneider
Interview has been edited and condensed.