My first book, Power Balladsis a linked, semi-autobiographical story collection about the lives of working musicians. My second, Epilogue: A Memoir, tells the story of my family’s emigration from England to Ireland to the US and my discovery of a deeply repressed secret. My recently published novel, Daphne, is set in San Francisco in 2011, with the Occupy protests as a backdrop, and centers on a young woman with a neurological condition that causes her to be physically paralyzed by emotion. I’m also an essayist and journalist.
While I began my career as a fiction writer, I now have a foot equally in fiction and nonfiction and teach both at Chicago. My work has often been concerned with trauma, repression, the cultural codes that govern how we express and understand emotion, and the shifting structures and ideas that make up what we call family. I was born in England and grew up in Ireland and Wisconsin, and the tropes of many immigrant stories—being caught between cultures, intergenerational conflict, a longing for and confusion over what makes up home—have become part of my fiction, essays, and journalism alike. Some of my nonfiction might be classed as hybrid or inter-genre, and I bring this interest in border smudging into the classroom with a course titled Embarrassing Fiction, Ecstatic Truth, on autofiction, nonfiction novels, and documentary film, among other forms.
My current work seeks to update migration and travel narratives for the 21st-century. It explores statelessness through encounters between “digital nomads” and ultra-wealthy elites, able to roam the globe with unprecedented freedom, and those displaced by conflict and political persecution, who constantly face geographical, political, and bureaucratic borders. My literary projects are deeply informed by my advocacy work among asylum seeking communities in Italy. My recent reporting has taken me to Oslo, The Gambia, Myanmar, and Kazakhstan. In addition to migration, I also write about ancient and/or highly localized cultural practices that have endured in a globalized world. I endeavor to write against the grain of cultural/economic imperialism and to understand my subjects politically and historically through first-hand, on-the-ground research.
I also have a former life as a performing musician, and a profound interest in the ways music, particularly rhythm, influences prose writing. My course on Music in Fiction considers not only fiction about music and musicians but verbal music and literary composition through both improvisation and formalism.
Over the last decade, my work has been supported by fellowships from Stanford University, the University of East Anglia, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy in Rome, the Corporation of Yaddo, and the MacDowell Colony.
Work with Students
I’ve advised numerous BA theses in Creative Writing, primarily from students working on fiction manuscripts. These have included both in-progress story collections and novels, ranging from family stories to bildungsromans to knowing (and loving) satires on the fantasy genre. As both a story writer and a novelist, I feel equally comfortable advising students working in the short and long forms and welcome a wide range of projects.
- Technical Seminar in Fiction: Embarrassing Fiction, Ecstatic Truth
- Advanced Nonfiction Workshop: Long-Form Journalism
- Fundamentals of Creative Writing: High-School Reading
- Technical Seminar in Fiction: Getting Perspective
- Fiction Thesis Workshop
- Advanced Fiction Workshop: Music in Fiction—Improvisation, Composition, Obsession
- Advanced Fiction Workshop: The Short Story in Context
- Fundamentals of Fiction Writing
- Daphne: A Novel. New York: W.W. Norton/Liveright, 2018.
- Epilogue: A Memoir, New York: W.W. Norton/Liveright, 2014.
- Power Ballads and Other Stories, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011.
- “A Kingdom for a Horse.” The Guardian, London: August 15, 2017.
- “Across the Line.” The New York Times Magazine, New York: June 24, 2016.
- “Pain.” Virginia Quarterly Review, Charlotesville: Winter 2014.
- “Beginners.”The American Scholar, Washington DC: Fall 2011.
- “Weather Enough.” Gaitskill, Mary, ed. Best New American Voices 2009. New York: The Harcourt Press, 2009.