From a crime thriller about a professional baseball pitcher who moonlights as a detective to a collection of true childbirth stories told by the mothers, several recent and forthcoming books by alumni of the University of Virginia’s graduate Creative Writing Program, housed in the English department, touch on relevant American themes and are getting favorable reviews.
• The author of “The Setup Man,” T.T. Monday – the pen name of Nick Taylor – is “a new heavy hitter on the thriller scene,” according to his publisher, Doubleday. “Monday takes readers inside a rich and highly entertaining world where crime and baseball intersect and delivers a debut that moves like a 96-mile-an-hour fastball.”
Booklist gave it a starred review. Publishers Weekly wrote: “Monday deftly describes the perks and pitfalls of life in pro ball [and] has delivered a rare double – a book that succeeds as both a mystery and a baseball novel.”
Taylor, who graduated in 2005, next will put his character Adcock in another game – he already has a contract for a sequel.
An associate professor of English and director of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University, Taylor has published two historical novels: “The Disagreement,” whose main character is a U.Va. medical student in the midst of the Civil War; and “Father Junípero’s Confessor,” about missionaries on the California coast.
• A classmate of Taylor’s, Eleanor Henderson, had a lot of personal questions about childbirth when she was pregnant with her first baby and asked fellow writer Anna Solomon about her experience. They decided to ask other writer-mothers if they were interested in telling their stories, and thus “Labor Day” was born – with the subtitle, “Birth Stories for the Twenty-First Century: Thirty Artful, Unvarnished, Hilarious, Harrowing, Totally True Tales.”
“Compelling childbirth narratives told from fresh perspectives,” wrote Kirkus Review.
“‘Labor Day’ is such a gift. I’ve probably read or heard hundreds of birth stories, but once I picked up ‘Labor Day,’ I could not put it down,” wrote Catherine Taylor, author of “Giving Birth: A Journey into the World of Mothers and Midwives.” “Birth stories, especially those told by mothers who are also writers, are riveting.”
Henderson’s first novel, “Ten Thousand Saints,” is being made into a movie.
• Moving from birth to family secrets learned in adulthood, “Epilogue,” a memoir by 2007 alumnus Will Boast, comes out in September but can be pre-ordered.
Born in England, Boast grew up in Ireland and Wisconsin. By the time he was 24, both of his parents and his only brother had died. A Barnes & Noble Discover choice for the fall, “Epilogue” dwells on childhood memories, especially of his father, and what the surviving son discovered his father had left behind.
Boast’s story collection, “Power Ballads,” won the 2011 Iowa Short Fiction Award. His fiction and essays have appeared in “Best New American Voices,” Virginia Quarterly Review, Glimmer Train, The American Scholar and The New York Times, among other publications.
• 2009 alumna Rufi Thorpe is getting rave reviews for her debut novel, “The Girls from Corona del Mar,” released this month by Knopf. The story centers on two high school girlfriends, told from one’s point of view, and follows the unexpected turns their lives take into adulthood.
“Thorpe unflinchingly examines the psychological tug-of-war between friends, and delves in to the pro-choice debate and issues relating to medical malpractice to give the personal narrative heft,” Publishers Weekly wrote. “The result is a nuanced portrait of two women who are sisters in everything but name.”
Virginia Quarterly Review called Thorpe “a skilled writer, particularly in how she moves around in time” and said, “The author’s prose embodies a grace and subtle flourish that sustains a good part of this absorbing narrative.”
• Another writer whose voice is receiving praise is 2010 alumnus Sam Taylor, whose second book of poetry, “Nude Descending an Empire,” will come out this fall from the Pitt Poetry Series.
“Once in awhile a book appears that seems forged from the truth. This is one,” poet Chase Twichell wrote. “The poems entirely bypass the Adventures of Self so common in contemporary poetry. They take head-on the end of nature, for one thing, and the significance of human life in a world changing so perilously fast that it’s barely recognizable from one moment to the next.”
An assistant professor of English at Wichita State University, Taylor won the 2014-15 Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship. In a recent interview, he said, “I wanted to find a poetic voice that could speak into history, speak publically, imaginatively and nakedly into being alive right now.”
For more titles by U.Va. alumni, see the list here.