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Amelia Gray

Distinguished Visiting Writer 2017

About Amelia Gray

Amelia Gray is the author of five books, most recently Isadora (FSG). Her fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Tin House, and VICE. She is winner of the NYPL Young Lion, of FC2's Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize, and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. She lives in Los Angeles.

More About Amelia Gray

From Isadora. Amelia Gray. Guernica (May 15, 2017).

When Max Merz was a boy, he wanted nothing more than to grow up to become an intellectual. He was ten years old when he first had this idea, studying English under the casual tutelage of an American student who found in Max an eager pupil and extra income every other weekend at the Merz family grocery. To teach the boy clauses and tense shifts, the student loaned him a copybook featuring the writing of Benjamin Franklin. The words were designed to be traced, to hone penmanship rather than theory, but Max found utility in both. And so his very first experience with philosophy came to him in a new language. Florid and lush, Franklin’s paragraphs bloomed in his own hand, the central tenets half obscured by his own understanding but slowly revealing themselves, the curtain drawing aside.

"Amelia Gray." Rachel Sugar, Kirkus Reviews (May 25, 2017).

But the counterintuitive challenge of historical fiction, she soon discovered, is to avoid getting bogged down in the details of history. The more Gray read about Duncan, the more invested she became in the realities of Duncan’s life, which wasn’t what she’d been after at all. “I really didn’t want it to end up being a barely fictionalized portrayal of something that really happened…some broad stabs at how it would have really felt.” And while that could also be interesting, she reflects, that’s just not her thing. “You can’t make the big leaps stylistically that you could if you’re stepping away from the truth a little more.”

"The Dance of Grief: On Amelia Gray's 'Isadora'." Gayle Brandeis, Los Angeles Review of Books (May 24, 2017).

It turns out this novel is less about Isadora as the mother of modern dance and more about Isadora as a grieving mother. The novel takes place just after her two children drown in a car with their nanny and chauffeur in 1913. It is told from four perspectives: Isadora; her lover and father of her late son, Paris Singer (heir to the sewing machine fortune); her sister, Elizabeth, who runs a school based on Isadora’s methods in Germany; and her sister’s lover, the insufferable Max. All of them can be quite insufferable. In fact, I hadn’t realized Isadora was such a selfish jerk when I threw so much energy into worshipping her, but Gray makes them and their suffering tremendously compelling and allows each of them moments of great sympathy.

"Amelia Gray's 'Isadora' is a heavenly celebration of women in charge of their bodies." Ellie Robins, the Los Angeles Times (May 18, 2017)

Isadora” begins with an ending — these true drowning deaths — and plays out as a moment of poise, the feeling of being tipped forward on your toes for almost 400 pages as Isadora teeters on the brink of her sanity and the world teeters on the brink of World War 1. In both the world at large and the world of Isadora Duncan, this was a tense, dense, fertile period, humming with notions about strength, the female body, sovereignty, genius, power, invention and belief. This is a novel about all these things, and also a great novel of character: the story of a real woman’s real grief and survival.

"Labyrinth." Amelia Gray, the New Yorker (February 16, 2015)

Dale had been doing a lot of reading on Hellenic myth, so when he said he had a surprise for us at his Pumpkin Jamboree we knew he wasn’t screwing around.

"A Couple Threats." Amelia Gray, VICE (November 17, 2011).

He knew Franny had been behind the house. She wore a scarf colored red like the berries that grew back there. Her feet were bare and her ankles were slick with fluid. “Something has happened,” Franny said.