Author Archive

Origin Stories: Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels

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I was on book three of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet when I told a friend that Lila, the book’s second protagonist, is one of the most amazing literary creations I’ve ever read. “But she’s not a creation,” my friend responded. “She’s obviously real.”

Origin Stories: Zachary Tyler Vickers’s CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR MARTYRDOM!

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In the first story of Zachary Tyler Vickers’s remarkable new collection, Congratulations on Your Martyrdom!, an origami hobbyist with pathologically stubby fingers is stuffed like the roadkill he prepares for children. If you’re looking for the fiction about married people drinking lattes, this probably isn’t the book for you.

Origin Stories: Matthew Neil Null’s ALLEGHENY FRONT

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You just don’t see enough literary fiction about bears. If, like me, you prefer your nutritious reading with a side of mauling, you should pick up Matthew Neil Null’s Allegheny Front. Erudite, unsentimental, and alert to the natural world, Null turns the history of West Virginia into stories that

Origin Stories: Don DeLillo’s UNDERWORLD

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Novelists, like paranoiacs, see connections where other people don’t, which is to say that both are always trying to uncover plots. Don DeLillo is a dean of both groups, so it’s fitting that his 1997 masterpiece, Underworld, is a conspiracy of people, events, and cultural touchstones (both real and

Origin Stories: Kathryn Davis’s DUPLEX

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Duplex begins with a suburban street, a woman walking her dog, fireflies prickling in the gathering dark, boys playing stick ball, and headlights rounding the curb. Totally normal, except that the dog walker likes to go out “when the blue-green lights of the scows, those slow-moving heralds of melancholy,

Origin Stories: Amy Gustine’s YOU SHOULD PITY US INSTEAD

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Amy Gustine’s debut collection, You Should Pity Us Instead, is an unsentimental exploration of people in distress. I recently asked Gustine where she drew her inspiration. She told me that stories come alive for her when she opposes two equal forces, which explains why each one feels like such

Origin Story: Tony Tulathimutte’s PRIVATE CITIZENS

  Tony Tulathimutte’s debut novel, Private Citizens, charts the spectacular floundering of four recent college graduates. His eye is so sharp, his characters so recognizable, and his truth so pitiless that I sometimes had to close the book, as if he might read my soul through its pages. This

Origin Stories: Fiction by Prompt

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How do great authors begin their fiction? With a line or a character, a memory or a mission? This year, as Ploughshares’s unofficial origin-story archivist, I’ll investigate. Because I’m a teacher, I started by looking for stories that grew out of writing assignments. Here’s what I found. 1. Amy