As readings, signings, classes, events, and discussions come up, I’ll add details.
As part of “One Book, One New Paltz,” I’ll be leading a seminar, which has been rescheduled for Thursday, 5/3/2018 at 11:00 in the morning, about the choices Philip Roth makes in writing his counterfactual historical novel The Plot Against America. (My own book The Book of Esther takes a similarly counterfactual approach to the same historical period, using different methods and arriving at different outcomes.)
The seminar will meet in Room 418 of the Student Union.
The Plot Against America was a great book when it came out in 2004, and it has only become more eerily prescient as time as has gone, especially considering our current political situation in the US. If you are local to the New Paltz area and would like to come join me, I’d be delighted to see you there. Please come with your copy of the book, prepared to talk about the choices Roth makes in tweaking history, and perhaps with a passage you are interested in exploring. Here’s the flyer for all the events:
The brilliant Corinna Barsan just interviewed me for BARB magazine, where I got to talk about Ursula Le Guin and Jenny Erpenbeck, what’s on my nightstand, feminism, and, as it turned out, cats. I hope you enjoy the piece.
For fans of the cat in question (Ivy, who lived to be more than eighteen years old), here’s a picture of us back in the day:
Despite being a Harvard woman, I happily taught undergraduate creative writing at Yale for five years, and am delighted to report that I’ll be joining the faculty of the Yale Writers’ Workshop this summer. I’ll be teaching a workshop on historical fiction in Session II.
Here’s my course description:
Historical fiction can take many forms: reimagining historical people in historical circumstances; imagining fictional people into historical circumstances, or historical personages into fictive situations; alternate or speculative history; thinking your way into the interior life of a Paleolithic ancestor, or simply trying to remember the first time you saw someone take a selfie. Some historical fiction writers rely on research, while others (E. L. Doctorow!) eschew it; others still push at the boundaries of genre (Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policemen’s Union, an alt-historical hardboiled police procedural). This workshop defines historical fiction broadly, and welcomes writers working in diverse styles and periods (up to and including the present moment) who want to talk world building, verisimilitude, faithfulness to the historical record and the given world, research, and imagination.
Applications are now open; click here to learn about admissions and to apply. I look forward to working with you there.
I’m pleased to report that I’ll be serving as SUNY New Paltz’s Writer in Residence for the Spring 2018 semester. Fiction writers at New Paltz, I’ll be teaching a course called “Plot Lab,” helping you think about plot and structure through both traditional and non-traditional narrative models. There will also be a public reading, signing, and Q&A in March. Look forward to seeing you there!
The Book of Esther is now out in paperback, with a beautiful new cover by the artist Tran Nguyen. You can purchase a copy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, or your local indie. The paperback includes a glossary, questions for book groups, and a short interview with me.
If your book group is planning to discuss Book of Esther, please feel free to reach out. I’m happy to Skype/FT in if possible, and would be delighted to send your group signed, personalized book plates.
This morning, The Weeklings publishes my essay on the night Kingston, NY officially became welcoming & kind thanks to Mayor Steve Noble’s resolution.
Immigrants’ lives are in particular peril right now. I hope this essay encourages you to speak up for sanctuary city policies in your town too.
I’m proud to have an opinion piece in the Kingston Timestoday. It’s about why I believe our Common Council should vote yes on Tuesday on the resolution for Kingston to reaffirm its stance as a “welcoming and inclusive”—or sanctuary—city. If you’re a Kingstonian who agrees, please let your representative on the Common Council know, and/or show up to the meeting on Tuesday evening, January 10th, to let the Council know.
Thanks to brilliant book cover designer Charles Orr, there are now PROPERTY OF KHAZARIA WAR DEPT. t-shirts, with a logo based on descriptions of the Khazar flag in The Book of Esther. They come in many sizes and styles: there’s a toddler shirt, a kids’ one, a fitted (or women’s) style in sizes S-2XL, and a unisex or looser-fit shirt in sizes S-3XL. Any profits will go to benefit Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, an organization committed to building understanding between Muslim and Jewish women through solidarity and breaking down stereotypes.
As book reviewers go, I’m fairly slow. I like to take my time with a book; read it once through, then read it again to annotate; take my time to craft an argument.
When the NYTBR wrote to ask if I’d like to review Amos Oz’s new novel, Judas, the deadline was tight and I was already in the midst of reviewing the new Chabon book for Moment. But I said yes, because it was such an honor to write about an writer I admire so greatly for so many reasons.
I’m really glad I did. Judas is a remarkable novel: slow, subtle, beautiful, at many moments surprising. I recommend it to you wholeheartedly. And hope you’ll go read my review, which ran yesterday.
I had the pleasure of reviewing Michael Chabon’s new novel, Moonglow, at some length for Moment Magazine. I’d be delighted if you’d go read the review on your way to reading the book, which I highly recommend!
My former student Maggie Cooper recently interviewed me for The Rumpus. Maggie took her first-ever fiction workshop with me as a Yale undergrad in 2009, and was such a great student: talented, intelligent, insightful when speaking about her peers’ work, generous. It’s thrilling to see how she’s putting all those gifts to use out in the world. When you read this interview, I hope you can see how much fun we had catching up . . . and covering topics as diverse as genre, procrastination, genderqueer magic, and representations of girls’ sexuality in fiction.
I wrote an essay for Signature about accepting the dare my husband, Thomas Israel Hopkins, gave me: to write a 50,000-word potboiler in a month. It’s an essay about taking risks and about keeping going just long enough to add that one next thing. (My friend Kirsten Bakis calls that aspect of the essay “The Stone Soup Principle.”) It’s also about how much we writers rely on community. If there’s a writing project you’ve been hoping to try, maybe this essay can help give you the encouragement to do it.
I got to write an essay for Read It Forward about why Daniel Deronda served as a good model when looking for a life partner, and why I think you should consider dating a nice guy like him too. Hope you’ll enjoy reading the piece.
I talked with my friends Alexander Chee and Whitney Terrell about what it was liking taking ten years or more to write our current books. You can read the conversation, called “A Decade in the Literary Wilderness,” on The Millions. If you’ve ever wondered why your friend (partner, parent, teacher, child . . . ) was taking so long to write a book, or despaired about how long it was taking you to write one of your own, we hope this conversation will offer solace, frank talk, some explanations, and possibly even a laugh or two.
On September 10th, I’ll be participating in the Slice Literary Conference in Brooklyn, NY.
My panel is called “Setting the Clock,” and here’s the official description: “Emily Dickinson wrote, ‘There is no Frigate like a Book.’ Certainly, there is no limit to where you can go when you crack open a novel. But some of the most spellbinding stories take us even further out of ourselves, to different times, whether its the past, a re-envisioned past, or even a projected future. Four novelists discuss how they constructed stories in different times and the creative opportunities and obstacles they encountered along the way.”
Come join us on Saturday, September 10th, from 2:45-3:45 PM. We will be at St. Francis College, 80 Remsen St., Brooklyn, NY.
Is your personal, library, school, church, or synagogue book club reading The Book of Esther? Thank you, if so; and I wanted to make sure you knew that Tim Duggan Books has put together a tremendous readers’ group guide for the book, including a brief Q+A with me. You can download it here.
You are always welcome to ask questions on my Goodreads page or to tweet them at me @embleybarton; please hashtag your question #BookofEstherBookClub. Whenever possible, I enjoy Skyping in to book clubs, so let me know if you’d like to try to set that up.
I am a longtime fan of designer Charles Orr’s book jacket designs. (Here is a favorite.) So I am very pleased he agreed to design a logo for Book of Esther. I am going to do a small run of t-shirts with it because I like it so much:
These will be American Apparel triblend shirts, produced here in the Hudson Valley. Sizes available are: kids 2T-12, women’s S-XL, and unisex XS-2XL. The cost per shirt will run about $25, including shipping; depending on how many we end up running, that price may go down a bit too. Drop me a line on my Facebook page if you’d like to order one.
The New Yorker weighs in on The Book of Esther: “[T]he project of the book—placing a Biblical heroine in a version of the twentieth-century conflict that nearly obliterated Jewish culture—raises complex questions about alternate history and mythology.” You can read the whole review here.
My local NPR affiliate, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, is special in many ways. They provide more original content—more intelligent talk—than any other NPR station I’ve had the pleasure of listening to regularly. Every morning from 9 to noon, Joe Donahue and Sarah LaDuke produce The Roundtable, a show that covers local and national politics as well as art, music, theater, and literature from around the listening region. Sometimes they talk food and drink. (Those are some of my favorite segments. One time, they had Jane’s Ice Cream on and talked about all the flavors they were trying—it sounded sooooo good.) In addition to speaking with authors of interest, Joe talks to independent booksellers each week to find out what new books intrigue them; and once per week, he does The Book Show, a more in-depth interview with an author. I am thrilled that The Book of Esther is Joe’s Book Show pick for this week. He’s one of my radio idols and a great force for good—he brings civility, intelligence, enthusiasm, and a lively sense of inquiry to our region’s public discourse. Thanks again for having me on, Joe, as well as for just being you; and if you’d like to have a listen, the segment will air again this Thursday evening, 7/28, at 8:30, or you can listen online here.
Big thanks to Nina Shengold for the wonderful piece she wrote about me and The Book of Esther in the July issue of Chronogram. Nina got the book (and me, I think!) on so many levels, and writes so intelligently about it. I’m really grateful.
I have a new essay up on Read It Forward, about the best (and also, frankly, the creepiest) thing/things I’ve ever found tucked in a book. Actually, first I found the book, and then I looked inside. YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT I FOUND NEXT. (Hint: It involves a Hitler stamp.) Please enjoy!
I was so pleased when Read It Forward asked if I’d like to contribute a recommended reading list. Writing this post gave me the chance to revisit old favorites like Middlemarch and Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics,as well as to talk about some of the contemporary authors I love, such as Ellis Avery, Sesshu Foster, Ted Chiang, and Jenny Erpenbeck. I have to say I really appreciate Read It Forward’s design sensibility too—it’s fun to click on the white circles to read about each book. Hope you’ll enjoy the piece.
Writing for The New York Times Book Review, Dara Horn calls The Book of Esther “An imaginative, engrossing and entertaining storytelling tapestry…as addicting as a Jewish Game of Thrones.” Read the full review here! Be sure to check out the beautiful illustration by Dutch illustrator Eline von Dam!
“A big, thrilling revisionist history and an audacious, wholly realized feat of imagination.” —Hanya Yanagihara, Man Booker Prize-nominated author of A Little Life
Today on Booklist, a starred review for The Book of Esther from Donna Seaman, a reviewer who really gets the whole project. I’m so excited and grateful!
An excerpt: “Barton’s audacious tale of an otherwordly uprising against the Nazis is a wild pageant of tumult and valor, magic and inventiveness, which, for all its humor, sensuality, steampunk brio, and full-tilt military action, is profoundly inquisitive. […] With intimations of Cynthia Ozick and Michael Chabon, Barton is spellbinding and provocative in this refulgent, topsy-turvy, questing fantasy, a mettlesome response to anti-Semitism and the forever-haunting Holocaust.”
Jon Winokur from Advice to Writers interviewed me a few weeks ago; you can read the interview here. I enjoy reading these, because when asked these questions, writers’ answers are as diverse as their lived experiences. I also really like the inspiring quotations. Experienced writers need encouragement, too!
Two articles about Purim to help you celebrate the holiday. Both are my first appearances in publications I read and admire. On the Jewish Daily Forward’s Sisterhood blog, I have a piece about why the main character of my new novel is named after the biblical Esther. My other piece is about why when my older son wanted to dress up as Haman for Purim this year, I celebrate that.
Here’s the link.
Thanks for reading, and Chag Purim Sameach!
“In this thrillingly inventive novel, Emily Barton has created a whole world worth losing yourself in. She sneaks up on you with a story so original you’ll wonder how she found it, and so vital that it seems amazing no one has ever told it before.”
My new novel, The Book of Esther, will be published June 14th. It’s already available for preorder on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and from your local independent bookeseller. Please come back soon for pre-pub reviews and interviews, and for reading dates!
“In her third novel, brainy and ebulliently eloquent Barton (Brookland, 2006) tells the story of a Jewish Joan of Arc on the forbidding steppes between the Black and Caspian Seas…Barton’s audacious tale of an otherworldly uprising against the Nazis is a wild pageant of tumult and valor, magic and inventiveness, which, for all its humor, sensuality, steampunk brio, and full-tilt military action, is profoundly inquisitive….With intimations of Cynthia Ozick and Michael Chabon, Barton is spellbinding and provocative in this refulgent, topsy-turvy, questing fantasy, a mettlesome response to anti-Semitism and the forever-haunting Holocaust.” – Starred Booklist review
Please read Donna Seaman’s full wonderful review here. Writers are always happy when their books are positively received; but I really love it when a reader connects with a book on as many levels as Seaman does here.
“A bold reimagining of some of the darkest history of World War II. Barton’s Esther is like a Jewish Joan of Arc, except the calling she feels is entirely her own—and to honor it, she has to turn the ways of the world upside down.”
“Emily Barton has formerly reimagined the history of New York, and now she’s reconceived historic Europe as an entirely different place, replete with Jewish woman warriors on mechanical steeds and multiplying golems. Exhilirating in its freedom and exacting in its thought—a fine book.”
Over the course of the past few years, I’ve had the honor to be interviewed by James Peacock, a scholar whose current work addresses representations of Brooklyn in contemporary fiction. His questions have been thoughtful, insightful, often unexpected. I’m thrilled to report that the complete interview has just been published in the journal Contemporary Literature. You need to pay for online access (or buy a physical copy, or check one out at your local university library), but I’d still be thrilled if you’d like to read it!
While I work on revisions to The Book of Esther and prepare for it to come out next year, I thought it would be fun to give some things away on my Facebook page. I have a first-edition copy of The Testament of Yves Gundron that I’m ready to inscribe and send to someone; I’ll hold a little draw when I get to 600 likes. Want to come join me over there? There’s literary and teaching news, and occasionally a cute picture of a cat, kid, or baby. If you’d like to, please visit my page, click Like, and enable notifications (so you’ll hear about it when the giveaway happens—curses on you, Zuck, for not otherwise allowing authors, artists, and small businesses to reach the people interested in their work!). See you there, and more soon.
The Massachusetts Review nominated my story “The Once and Future Capital” for a Pushcart Prize! I’m so excited; this is my first nomination. It’s in the Summer 2014 issue if you’d still like to support a great journal and read it! And in case you’re interested, here’s my little piece about how the town harlot got her name.
I am thrilled to report that Tim Duggan Books (Tim Duggan’s eponymous new imprint at Crown) will publish my third novel, The Book of Esther, likely sometime in the spring of 2016! Tim is a remarkable editor; I feel so fortunate to be able to work with him on this project. More news as it becomes available.
Thank you to my family, and to the many friends, colleagues, and readers who have supported and encouraged me as this book has followed its path to completion. I am beyond grateful, and can’t wait to show you what I’ve been up to.
Back in 2006, I had the honor of participating in an auction to benefit the First Amendment Project. Authors auctioned off the right to name characters in their writing to support the good work of protecting freedom of speech. At the time, I was writing a novel set in 1930s Berlin, so I asked for a German name. But the person who won my auction said she’d really like to have a character named after her, and her name was Irish. So I asked if she’d be willing to wait for an opportunity to arise.
That person is Quinn Heraty, a partner in her own firm specializing in entertainment law. (I was thrilled as all get-out to discover that she works with John Hall, who is also a lawyer, but known to me as a poet; back in the day he was the genius behind the spoken-word band King Missile.) And the fictional Quinn Heraty now stars as the town harlot in “The Once and Future Capital.” (Don’t worry, I asked Ms. Heraty before I used her name for that purpose. She was game. Because she’s cool!) I am thrilled that I finally got to honor our peculiar little contract. Hooray for free speech, and for cool people, and for fiction’s mysterious alchemy.
When you read the story, send some mental thanks her way! To me, the name seems just right for the character: interesting, unexpected, gender ambiguous in the right, sexy way. The story wouldn’t be the same without it.
I have a new story, “The Once and Future Capital,” in the new issue of The Massachusetts Review. I couldn’t be more excited! It’s about Kingston. Please go read it!
Not long ago, we were driving down my father’s road—winding, unpaved, only a few houses on it—when we saw a parked car with a magnetic decal on the side. Usually, such decals advertise local businesses, but this one was promoting a novel. As I continued to drive, Tom took out his hand-dandy Internet device and we looked up the book, which turned out to be . . . possibly a little kooky? It promised to reveal truths about the universe (it sounded a little Secret-esque); and the few sentences we read were gummed up with adverbs. But we felt fundamental kinship with the driver of that car (an author? An author’s friend? Either way). And thought we’d like to do something similar—if a little more tongue-in-cheek.
So we are happy to present The Hopkins and Barton Emporium. At present it features one Brookland bumper sticker, another for Yves Gundron, one that kind of sums up our position on the sorry state of political dialogue in this country, and another reminding people not to text and drive. (Since they’re for cars, and it’s such an important safety issue.) Wanna head over and buy one? We’d be tickled. And maybe we’ll think up some kind of contest soon and give a few out as prizes.
In order to take my current wonderful job as the Elizabeth Drew Professor at Smith College, we moved to Northampton, MA. As a result, we’re selling our beautiful house in the Hudson Valley. If you teach at Bard, Vassar, Marist, SUNY New Paltz, or UCC; or if you work in Albany or NYC and could make an easy commute (by bus, train, or easy access to the Interstate); or if you’re a writer, artist, or other person who works at home, it would be a great house for you. (Before it was our house, it belonged to the beloved Jewish children’s book author Simms Taback, who won the Caldecott while living there.) We also think it would make a fabulous weekend house for New Yorkers who’d like the appurtenances of a country house (lots of space, quiet, a deep, beautiful yard) while retaining the perks of living in a town (such as being able to walk to a great farmers’ market, organic coffee, an incredible butcher, and the best bar at which it has ever been my pleasure to drink a cocktail). The house is a three-bedroom, 1.5-bath on a quiet, friendly block. We put in an all-new kitchen, replaced the floors on the first story, and just upgraded it to a high-efficiency natural gas furnace. And we’re offering it at a break-even price because we don’t live there anymore.
If you like the sound of it, take a peek at this flattering write-up on Upstater and at the official listing (the MLS # is 20141289). If you can pass this information on to anyone who might be looking, we’ll be grateful!
I’m very excited to have a new story, “The Once and Future Capital,” forthcoming in the Summer 2014 issue of The Massachusetts Review. Details TK!
I’m flattered that in the past few months I’ve been inundated with requests for advice about such topics as finding an agent or publisher and when/why/how to apply for an MFA. The advice section of this website features concise, practical thinking on these topics. (And can tell you how””and how not””to request a letter of reference.) I hope it can be of service to my students, former students, readers, and friends. If there’s a topic I haven’t yet addressed that you’d like to see an article on, please message me on my Facebook page. I’ll try to get a response up quickly!
Many thanks to Erica Wagner, who chose to write about Brookland in this article for the Folio Prize’s website about books that people would have liked to see win the prize. What a kind mention—it’s an honor to be a hypothetical Folio Prize winner!
I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been named the Elizabeth Drew Professor at Smith College from 2013 to 2015. This is a real honor””Prof. Drew served as Sylvia Plath’s thesis adviser, and the chair has been held by some remarkable writers in the past. (My favorite? Kurt Vonnegut.) So, hello Pioneer Valley. I’ll look forward to seeing you this fall.
The Testament of Yves Gundron is at long last available as an eBook! So if you haven’t yet read it and would like to do so on your Kindle, Kobo, Nook, or iPad, it’s waiting for you at Amazon.com or via the iBooks app on your iPad or iPhone. You can also still get it in paperback, if you prefer to do your reading the old-fashioned way. Would it be ironic to read this novel about the complexities of blindly pursuing progress on a snazzy piece of technology? Maybe. But I’d like to think that the widespread adoption of these miraculous gadgets makes this book more relevant than ever. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
A few people have asked if Brookland is also available as an eBook. Mais bien sÃ»r! This link will get you to the Kindle edition, and you can also download it via iBooks for your Apple device. Thanks for asking!
In the current issue of PEN America (#16: Teachers), director of Columbia’s MFA in Translation Susan Bernofsky and I have a dialogue about our practices as teachers of undergraduate and graduate students, and the lessons we bring to the classroom from our own teachers. (Michael Martone, are you reading this?) Although I’m erroneously identified as teaching at Columbia (which is not true this year), I’m proud to be part of the issue and pleased with how the piece and the issue as a whole turned out. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it! (As a side note: Check out the Bill-Clinton-lookalike Vassar undergrad, c. 1958, on the cover!)
Caroline Grant, the editor in chief of Literary Mama, recently interviewed me for their blog. Topics include lessons I pass on to my students from my high school teachers (Bob Pridham and Cornelia Reid, are you reading this?), the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me in a Latin class, and stuff I’d like to invent if I could be an inventor. If you’re interested, you can read it here.
I just uploaded three new posts to the Publishing Advice section of my Advice page: one on when you should start looking for an agent (and, concomitantly, on how you know your book is done in the first place), one on how to know when the story you’re working on is ready to send out, and a third on how to respond if an agent contacts you. I hope these will prove helpful!
Do you have a topic you’d like to propose for this section? Please post it on my Facebook page.
Just a quick note to let my students at Yale know that, in addition to teaching my upper-level fiction workshop this coming spring, I’ll be teaching an introductory workshop in the fall. If you know beginning fiction writers—or people who might like to give fiction a try, though they haven’t done so yet—please send them my way. Please also be in touch if you’re a current Yale undergrad interested in working on an independent study. This could be a fiction writing project or a program of individual literary study that’s of interest to us both. I’m all ears!
I’d also like to let my NYU graduate students know that I’ll be teaching my craft seminar on plot construction again this fall. This will feature the same wild reading list as last year (anyone for Sesshu Foster, Percival Everett, Jenny Erpenbeck, and Thomas Bernhard?), and I’m looking forward to it. If you have peers who might be interested (and this would include people who think they’re not at all interested in plot: I will win them over), please do send them along.
There is a video of my reading with Paul La Farge at apexart on May 17th! This video is more than sixteen minutes long, which is actually very long in the Internet age, but it has a few features to recommend it: 1) We are soaking our feet in a bowl of water and bath salts while we read, and 2) Paul’s piece is hilarious. You could just kind of fast-forward over my reading and listen to his if feeling pressed for time. Enjoy!
I have two new articles up on my Advice page: How Can I Improve my Chances of Being Accepted to an Undergraduate Workshop? and How Do I Ask a Professor for a Letter of Reference?. I hope either or both might be helpful to you. I’m proud to see that author Erika Dreifus linked to them from her excellent blog””itself a storehouse of good advice for young writers. Many thanks to Sonnet Media for redesigning the Advice page as a whole; it’s now much easier to navigate.
I am absolutely thrilled to have been awarded a Winter 2011 Artist’s Grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation! This wonderful organization’s mission is to support artists and writers who are also raising families. I’m honored to have been chosen; and very grateful for their help in finishing my new book.
My brilliant husband has three recent publications in which you might be interested: a new short story in Fence (both the print and online editions), whose new issue also features new work by Deborah Eisenberg and Fiona Maazel; an essay on observing the yarzheit of a non-Jewish parent, currently up on Tablet; and an article called “Network: How to Use LinkedIn to Connect With Your Community” in the November/December Poets & Writers. I recommend all three!
The Hopkins & Barton Book Trailer Manufactory proudly presents the second installment in its book trailer manufacturing project, Tobias’s incisive yet glowing review of Michael Griffith’s new novel, Trophy:
I am absolutely thrilled to have a long essay in the Summer 2011 edition of The Threepenny Review. The essay, entitled “The Jazz Singers,” is about the three different movies—all iconic Jewish films—by that name. I hope you’ll enjoy it!
Here’s my review of Michael Parker’s new novel, The Watery Part of the World. The essay ran in the New York Times Book Review on Sunday, May 22nd, 2011—further proof that the world didn’t end on the 21st!
My husband, Thomas Israel Hopkins, has an excellent article on “The Future of Family-Friendly Residencies” in the March/April 2011 issue of Poets & Writers magazine. Though the article is only available in the print edition (as if you needed another reason to purchase—or better yet, subscribe to—the magazine), you can watch a video on the subject right here on the Internets. Tom talks about his inspiration for the article; Tobias talks about the frogs and monkeys writing poems on the roof at Yaddo (who knew?); and I hold a toy seal pup.
When the Department of State contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to record the ice bridge segment of Brookland for their Literary New York website, I was beyond bowled over. I had not, until then, realized that part of State’s mission involved the promotion of American literature, both at home and abroad . . . but it turns out it does. I had the pleasure of recording the segment at WAMC, Northeast Public Radio (my favorite NPR affiliate); and I’m honored to see my work up on the website now alongside that of Tom Wolfe and Pete Hamill. I hope you’ll go listen to all of the recordings and enjoy the other articles on the page.
FSG keeps a wonderful blog called Work in Progress, and I’m proud to be part of it for the first time: they’re reprinting my advice to students about when and why to apply for an MFA (if ever) as part of the ongoing dialogue about what MFAs are really for.
Thus far, there is advice about applying for an MFA, beginning to get one’s work published, and looking for an agent on this website’s advice page, which I invite you to visit. Please check back soon for new postings to the section; future topics will undoubtedly include “How to Write a Cover Letter That Will Actually Get You Into That Writing Class” and “How Best to Request a Letter of Reference (or Anything Else You Might Need).” I’d also like to do a post about the more general topic of humility, but that might be more of an essay. We’ll see.
Charles Orr’s Hypothetical Library is one of my favorite projects on the internet. Orr, a brilliant book-jacket designer, partners with authors, asking them to provide flap copy for a book they could write but never actually will. He then designs a cover for this book, and together they seek a blurb from another real author. In complex and fruitful ways, the Hypothetical Library blurs the distinction between the real, the potentially real, and the pure dream of fiction.
It’s an honor and a great pleasure to have a hypothetical novel newly out on the Library: Golems! A Musical, a campy yet semi-theological story of the Second Avenue theater. Orr designed both a jacket for the novel and a hypothetical poster for the play within the novel, Di Goylemim. And Michael Chabon has been kind enough to provide a blurb for the project.
Please go take a peek!
I’m delighted to have had the chance to review Geoffrey O’Brien’s wonderful new book, The Fall of the House of Walworth: A Tale of Murder and Madness in Saratoga’s Gilded Age, for today’s Los Angeles Times. As I mention in the review, when I first learned of the Walworths’ lurid family saga, I wished someone would write a good, juicy book about it. (In all seriousness, it puts the Beecher-Tilton scandal””of which I’m a huge fan, if one can be a fan of a 150-year-old lawsuit””to shame.) I can’t think of a better writer to take on the project than Mr. O’Brien. 22 August 2010.
What a pleasure it was to appear on WAMC’s live talk show The Roundtable. As a regular listener, I already knew what an insightful and affable interviewer Joe Donahue is, but it was wonderful getting to meet and talk with him in person. Thank you to Joe and to Sarah LaDuke for inviting me on, and to Ray Graf, Alan Chartock, the WAMC staff, and Murray the dog for making me feel so welcome. Thanks also to any WAMC listeners who are here visiting my website for the first time! It’s nice to meet you.
You can listen to my interview with Joe on your computer by clicking here. If you’d like to take a look at my contribution to Charles Orr’s Hypothetical Library, the hypothetical novel Golems! A Musical, it should be up any day now. In the meanwhile, go check out the site; Orr has done some beautiful design work for some truly wonderful authors.
It’s an honor and a pleasure to announce that I’ll be doing a live interview on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio’s wonderful local talk show, The Roundtable, this Wednesday, August 11th! I’ll be speaking with the show’s host, Joe Donahue, at 11:10 in the morning. Joe and his partner/producer, Sarah LaDuke, are my favorite talk radio hosts; I listen to their show almost every weekday, and love learning about local politics, artists, and booksellers.
With any luck, my contribution to the Hypothetical Library (one of my favorite projects on the internet right now) will be live by then, and that’s what we’ll talk about. Even if it’s not up yet, we’ll probably still talk about it, because I think Charlie Orr is doing such interesting work with the project.
WAMC broadcasts live from Albany, with towers all over the Northeast. You can go to their website to find the call numbers for the station nearest you; you’ll also be able to listen live or listen to the archived podcast later on wamc.org.
Thanks to everyone who came out to hear me, Stacey D’Erasmo, David Gates, and Tracy Daughtery speak about Donald Barthelme in Madison Square Park last week. What an honor and a privilege to have the space to consider his work; and it sure was enjoyable getting to read that paragraph from “The Zombies.”
August will be an exciting month for me: I have a few pieces coming out, and have been invited to do an interview with Joe Donahue on the Roundtable, my favorite radio show, which broadcasts from WAMC, Northeast Public Radio. (I’m also inordinately fond of WFUV’s show Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight and, of course, of WNYC’s incomparable Leonard Lopate Show; but as an upstate girl, Joe Donahue and Sarah LaDuke are the hosts I listen to every morning.) I’ll post dates and links when I have them, so please check back soon!
Thomas Israel Hopkins, keeper of the famous Mimeograph 2.0 Paradigm, now has three new stories out in journals: “Elephants of the Platte” in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet Issue No. 25, “The Man in The Moon Is A Lawyer” in the Indiana Review’s Issue #31.2, Winter 2009, and “Sleepwalking,” in Quick Fiction’s Issue #16””which has, on its cover, an illustration of a small boy, brown haired & brown eyed just like the author’s son, wearing a stripey shirt (as said boy often is), and performing one of that child’s favorite activities: drawing a turtle. Can this be a coincidence? Well, I suppose it can. But I’m still quite proud.
Ellinika Grammata has just come out with a Greek translation of The Testament of Yves Gundron, with a beautiful new (and, I dare say, really Hellenic-looking) cover. (I mean, look at those horses!) Please tell your Greek friends to look for it!
This week, my friend novelist Jessica Anthony is the guest blogger on Powell’s book blog. I’ve been enjoying all her smart, goofy, irreverent posts, but I’d particularly like to draw your attention to the entries for Wednesday, August 19th and Thursday, August 20th: a two-part conversation, on the topic of writerly dares, with the brilliant, funny, and did I mention very handsome Thomas Israel Hopkins. And while you’re over there, check out Jess’s novel, The Convalescent!
Only a few years behind the curve, I’ve created a Facebook page on which to post information about publications and events. If you’d like to receive news about upcoming thisses and thats, please go to Facebook and sign up to be a fan. You can also sign up for my mailing list by typing your e-mail address into the appropriate box on any page of this website.
Cynthia Hopkins & her amazing band, Gloria Deluxe, will be playing at the Bard Spiegeltent on Saturday evening, July 25th, at 8:30. Alt-country meets Weimar cabaret! Don’t miss this show!
Brookland is most obviously a historical novel, painstaking in its carefully researched and vividly imagined reconstruction of a vanished world, peopled by families with old Brooklyn names like Schermerhorn, Joralemon, and Hicks. But it is also a novel about the fragility of family ties, about ghosts””architectural as well as human””and about the sacrifices that artists are willing to make in order to fulfill their dreams…– Christopher Benfey, the New York Review of Books on Brookland
Brookland is most obviously a historical novel, painstaking in its carefully researched and vividly imagined reconstruction of a vanished world, peopled by families with old Brooklyn names like Schermerhorn, Joralemon, and Hicks. But it is also a novel about the fragility of family ties, about ghosts””architectural as well as human””and about the sacrifices that artists are willing to make in order to fulfill their dreams… Emily Barton has written of her admiration for George Eliot’s novels, especially the “long, discursive chapters” of The Mill on the Floss, in which, as in Brookland, “a difficult protagonist… ultimately loses the fight.” The reader may long to give advice to Maggie Tulliver and Prudence Winship, to warn them to choose a more suitable mate or to settle for less in their chaotic lives. But as I finished reading Brookland, it was Willa Cather who came most insistently to mind””Cather whose first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, is also about a heroic designer with outsized ambitions whose flaws are projected onto his great bridge. In several of her subsequent novels, Cather addresses another of Barton’s themes, the human cost of success for a woman artist. Cather’s The Song of the Lark charts the strange emptying out of the successful artist’s personal life as the imaginative life comes to dominate her existence. “Her artistic life,” as Cather observed, “is the only one in which she is happy, or free, or even very real.” This is Prue’s fate as well, so difficult for her sisters and daughter to fathom.
[A] magnificent epic… Barton’s second novel is a breathtaking, heartbreaking mix of gender-busting innovation and the story of decent people living enormous lives in a close family whose secrets lead to explosive tragedy. Highly recommended.– Library Journal (starred review) on Brookland
. . . everything that stymies the the goal-oriented reader–unhurried essays on antique gin-distilling techniques, verbatim chunks of sermons, phalanxes of peripheral characters–makes Barton’s stately period piece . . . a treat for the rest of us. In her account of an extraordinary woman’s life in Brooklyn circa 1800, Barton has re-created the borough’s brief pastoral moment in such lavish, precise detail that I can’t think of a single recent historical novel that compares… While female detectives may exercise their faculties in contemporary thrillers, mainstream fiction heroines engrossed in challenging jobs–as opposed to challenging cads–are rare. Which makes Brookland that much more of a rare delight. Grade: A-– Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly on Brookland
[A] capitvating tale . . . seamless, period-rich prose.– Vogue Magazine on Brookland
At the narrative center of Brookland, Emily Barton’s second novel, is a drawing””a sketch of the bridge that gin manufacturer Prue Winship dreams of erecting between Manhattan and Brooklyn at the dawn of the 19th century; however, it doesn’t so much depict a would-be architect’s invention as represent the fundamental need to invent in the first place. As it turns out, the willingness of its illustrator, Prue’s mute sister Pearl, to conform to Prue’s detailed specifications is finite; only too late does it become clear that Pearl has her own ideas about the way the world works, and an equally fierce capacity for expressing them. It’s not just that our creative urges define us; Brookland suggests that, even more than love, imagination makes or breaks us””or does both, even in the same moment… Barton’s gift with Brookland, as with [The] Testament [of Yves Gundron], is to immerse you gradually in a part-historical, part-mythical world.– Ruth Tobias, the Weekly Dig on Brookland
The deliberate primness of Barton’s tone – common to both “Yves Gundron” and “Brookland,” which are otherwise completely different books – makes her a strange and rare object among contemporary American writers. In a world of speed and irony and obliqueness, her unhurried gait and formal diction catch the gaze and hold it. She thinks deeply about her subjects; her imagination has unusually wide bounds; the austerity of her voice at once offers and withholds revelation.
. . . a work of such grandeur that it evokes Tolstoy’s genius for scope and story.– Julie Brickman, the San Diego Union-Tribune on Brookland
Some young writers you just need to know about, if you care at all about fiction. Today’s subject: Emily Barton. I’ll wait while you jot that down. In 20 years, when it’s perfectly obvious to everyone that Barton is one of the great ones of her generation, please take that slip out and remember where you read the name… The result is a novel as transporting as Yves Gundron, but all the more remarkably so for being virtually without any tricks of narrative. This time, Barton’s delicately realistic prose soars alone, illuminating the shadows within a heart…You can find out for yourself if Prue’s wish is answered. Mine has been, now that Emily Barton’s second novel has arrived to fulfill the promise of her first.– Marta Salij, the Detroit Free Press on Brookland
In Brookland, Emily Barton has taken an elegant way with questions of thought-provoking substance and has made a very fine and satisfying novel. And, if there is heartbreak at its end, those hearts are broken over things that mattered then ”” and still.– Tim Rutten, the Los Angeles Times on Brookland
Strip the saga from the family saga, and history-as-pageant treatment from the historical novel, and you end up roughly in the literary terrain that Emily Barton occupies in her heartfelt new novel, Brookland . . . For Barton, history is more than costuming and period color.– Art Winslow, the Chicago Tribune on Brookland
Strip the saga from the family saga, and history-as-pageant treatment from the historical novel, and you end up roughly in the literary terrain that Emily Barton occupies in her heartfelt new novel, Brookland… For Barton, history is more than costuming and period color. In the Revolutionary years, for example, the king’s soldiers still linger in Brookland, even after the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown (in fall 1781), and they are more of a presence in the novel than the stately figures of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, mentioned only fleetingly as a reminder that the historical clock is ticking as Barton’s characters age. History, as Barton uses it, becomes the set of everyday conditions that define the physical and psychological possibilities for her characters. So the fact that the king’s soldiers have denuded Brookland, hacking down most of the trees, is as material as the Revolution itself in its immediate effects on the people we meet: ginmakers, farmers, sawmill operators, ferrymen, tavernkeepers, children. Likewise, while Barton’s tale is multigenerational, the lives of the central characters are not epic in the sweeping, theatric sense. Why is it that historical novels routinely depend on characters “swept up” in the great moments of history? One thing Brookland demonstrates is the lack of necessity for such plotting: Characters can have gripping lives in gripping times, with the public and private events somewhat dissociated from each other, as in life. We should have guessed from Barton’s first novel, The Testament of Yves Gundron, that she would use genres for her own ends… Yet uncertainty—the unknown, even when it is a sibling or a parent or a spouse in question—is the most intoxicating agent in Brookland.
Ms. Barton’s prose voice is as good and supple as anything being written in America today. But in its period tone (if that’s the word), it reaffirms the unswerving adage of the novel reader: Describe a world well enough and I am its member. This is the voice of a great novelist.– David Thomson, the New York Observer on Brookland
We treasure and enjoy some novelists because they offer us a world, and let us feel we can enter it like original inhabitants. It’s a going home, even if we’ve never been there before… I don’t necessarily mean to suggest that Emily Barton is a full-fledged rival to Thomas Hardy””but Ms. Barton is only in her 30’s, the age at which Hardy had written Far from the Madding Crowd and not much else. In fact, I suspect that Ms. Barton already has more voices in her head than Hardy possessed, as well as a sturdier hope for the lives we lead. But what makes Brookland such an enormous achievement, and such a complete world in which to escape, is that this place is not Wessex (now full of antiques and cream-tea nostalgia””a dead end), but that corner of the world where the East River snakes around the edge of Manhattan island, the opportunity that Brooklyners and Americans have to inspect New York and wonder what happens there…This is a long story, and one that unwinds slowly, but with stunning enough effect to satisfy the waiting. The patience to stick with Prudence comes from the steady beauty of Ms. Barton’s writing. There are two strands to the book: letters written by Prudence as a mature woman (letters that capture both the eloquence and the idiosyncrasy of early 19th-century writing by unschooled people), and a more withdrawn narrative that is seldom modern or up-to-date. I take this backwards look””the bulk of the book””to be the largest part of Ms. Barton’s research (evidently extensive) and her talent (seemingly unlimited). And it may be worth stressing that many Hardy novels were set not in the year they were written but in a prior age, lost and enchanted. Ms. Barton’s prose voice is as good and supple as anything being written in America today. But in its “period” tone (if that’s the word), it reaffirms the unswerving adage of the novel reader: Describe a world well enough and I am its member. This is the voice of a great novelist.
Marvelous…So much modern fiction thinks small, feels small. Emily Barton will never be accused of either…Large and complex storytelling…Brookland turns out to be a story not just of risk, daring and ambition, but of the courage to fail–and the courage to live on after failing.– Christopher Corbett, New York Times Book Review on Brookland
Together with the book’s profound treatment of the spiritual ills born of the Enlightenment, this wonderful character is Barton’s main gift to us.– Joan Acocella, New Yorker Magazine on Brookland
But, if the bridge doesn’t succeed in creating the hoped-for unity, the book does. Brookland itself is a kind of bridge, not just in its great span, from 1772 to 1823, and in its lattice of solid little parts””what the Winships eat for dinner (sweet-potato stew), how many dresses Prue has (one, brown)””but in its balance of opposing forces, above all, the forces within Prue’s personality. Brookland is certainly a feminist novel, a child of Little Women and The Song of the Lark, but, unlike the protagonists of those books, Prue is not a “natural.” She isn’t pretty. She’s a worrywart; she’s full of envy and remorse. She loves her family passionately, but she would trade them all for the bridge. The thing she loves best is her own mind, but she doesn’t trust that, either. She is not a “good-models” feminist heroine, nor is she one of the bad-girl heroines of second-stage feminism. She is a thorny, struggling soul. Together with the book’s profound treatment of the spiritual ills born of the Enlightenment, this wonderful character is Barton’s main gift to us.
My review of Marilynne Robinson’s wonderful novel Home in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday, September 7, 2008.
An engrossing folktale that, in our technology-crazed era, ought to be required reading.– John Freeman, Time Out New York on The Testament of Yves Gundron
Emily Barton’s debut novel is destined to alter the landscape of contemporary literature.– Talk Magazine on The Testament of Yves Gundron
Fully and wittily imagined, written in heightened language that never falters of grows slack… Barton’s language is beautiful and shapely and . . . lovely touches of magic add a wonderful texture… A sly, joyous read.– Booklist on The Testament of Yves Gundron
A commanding and extraordinarily accomplished debut.– Kirkus Reviews (starred review) on The Testament of Yves Gundron
Rare is the author who can reimagine the fall of man and make it neither tragedy nor farce, but something delicately and illuminatingly balanced between. Rare, too, is the perspective Emily Barton takes for the audacious fable that is The Testament of Yves Gundron. She invokes a world that teeters before a likely ruinous progress and asks: What does it mean to be modern? Is it the acquisition of technology? The abandonment of the past? Or the ambivalence of embracing and repelling the future? Her answers might not be what you expect.– Marta Salij, the Chicago Tribune on The Testament of Yves Gundron
Few emerging novelists–or experienced ones–could handle the kinds of challenges Barton deftly accepts in this triumphant debut.– Publishers Weekly (starred review) on The Testament of Yves Gundron
“Few emerging novelists—or experienced ones—could handle the kinds of challenges Barton deftly accepts in this triumphant debut… For all of her storytelling prowess—and this book is exuberant with story—Barton’s real asset is her febrile imagination. Mandragora’s quotidian routines are detailed so convincingly, and so lovingly that the reader starts to resent the encroaching future, with ”˜its hum and its terrible energy,’ as much as Yves himself does. Barton’s intelligent and amusing facility with idioms and speech patterns rooted in Middle English injects a dynamic historical feel into her truly visionary project.”
Blessedly post-ironic, engaging and heartfelt–a story that moves with ease and certainty, deeply respecting the given world even as it shines with the integrity of dream.– Thomas Pynchon on The Testament of Yves Gundron
Here’s my essay about one of the last seltzer delivery men in New York City. The piece originally appeared in the anthology Brooklyn Was Mine, Riverhead Books, 2008, and was republished at Nextbook (which is now Tablet magazine), January 2, 2008.
My review of Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book is in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 30, 2007.
Here’s a link to my New York Observer review of Michael Chabon’s new novel; it originally ran May 1st, 2007.
Jim Crace’s novel The Pesthouse may have been somewhat eclipsed by Cormac McCarthy’s The Road when it came out; but I think it’s a fine (and quite disturbing) book. Here’s my review, which ran in the Los Angeles Times, 29 April 2007.