Jewish Book Council is proud to introduce readers to the five emerging fiction authors named as finalists for the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. Today, we invite you to learn more about Daniel Torday and his book, The Last Flight of Poxl West, a novel about a teenager and his relationship with his uncle, a World War II hero of the Royal Air Force.
A warm congratulations to Daniel and the other four finalists: Paul Goldberg, Idra Novey, Adam Ehrlich Sachs, and Rebecca Schiff. Join Jewish Book Council on May 3, 2017 at The Jewish Museum for a discussion with the authors and announcement of the recipient of the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature! Register for free tickets here »
What’re some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?
All of it! The more time you spend writing, the more you understand all the things that somehow won’t work in a novel. Flannery O’Connor said it best: “You can get away with anything you can get away with as a writer, but nobody’s ever gotten away with much.”
What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?
Harold Brodkey. Joan Didion. The Wire. Art Spiegelman. Marilynne Robinson, the paintings of Egon Schiele. Annie Dillard. Albert Goldbarth. Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan.
Who is your intended audience?
I’d like to think I write for the reader who loves to read as much as I do! I’m as happy re-reading Saul Bellow’s short stories, or some big thousand-page biography by Robert Caro, as I am watching a baseball game.
Are you working on anything new right now?
I’m trying to put the finishing touches on a new novel. It’s tentatively called BOOMER1. Though yesterday it was tentatively called something else so who knows. It’s about a guy in his early thirties who quits New York, moves into his parents’ basement in suburban Baltimore and tries to foment a revolution, sparking millennials to force baby boomers to quit their jobs.
What are you reading now?
Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles. Vivian Gornick’s little book on Emma Goldman, Revolution as a Way of Life. Gershom Scholem’s Sabbatai Sevi biography. Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life.
Top 5 favorite books
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth
Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?
Oh, I always wanted to be a writer. At my bar mitzvah, a succession of cousins and uncles suggested I would make a great lawyer. Each, a lawyer himself. I spent every September in my twenties buying LSAT prep books on Amazon, and every October not reading them. Luckily this writing/teaching thing seems to be working out, but there’s always the Fall 2017 LSAT….
What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?
I was so excited when I found out Michiko Kakutani was reviewing The Last Flight of Poxl West in the Times. I (embarrassingly) wrote everyone I knew to tell them. My old college friend, John Green, who has sold literally tens of millions of copies of his books, wrote back to say something like, “That’s cool, but you know what the best is? Just one person, somewhere, truly engaged with your work.” So, that.
How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?
I forget who but someone smarter than me said something along the lines of “the art of writing is the meeting of the seat of the pants with the seat of the chair.” So I try to be disciplined: sitting front of the computer for three hours a day, all week long, when I’m at work. A whole lot of it’s going to get thrown out, anyway.
What do you want readers to get out of your book?
I think the dream is for a reader who feels they see the world a little more clearly, in a little more detail, and a little more generously, after closing every novel they read. So if they read me, I’m just happy to know that’s what they’re doing when they do it.
Daniel Torday is the Director of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College. An author and former editor at Esquire magazine, Torday currently serves as an editor at The Kenyon Review. His short stories and essays have appeared in Esquire, Glimmer Train, Harper Perennial’s Fifty-Two Stories, Harvard Review, The New York Times, and The Kenyon Review. Torday’s novella The Sensualist won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for debut fiction; The Last Flight of Poxl West received the 2015 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction.