My thanks to Jean Hanff Korelitz for stopping by Tribute Books Mama and sharing her thoughts about her book, Admission.
BIG NEWS: Admission is being developed into a film by Paul Weitz, the director of About a Boy, for Tina Fey. Congratulations, Jean!
ABOUT JEAN: Jean Hanff Korelitz was born and raised in New York and graduated from Dartmouth College and Clare College, Cambridge. She is the author of one book of poems, THE PROPERTIES OF BREATH, and three previous novels, A JURY OF HER PEERS, THE SABBATHDAY RIVER and THE WHITE ROSE, as well as a novel for children, INTERFERENCE POWDER. She has also published essays in the anthologies MODERN LOVE and BECAUSE I SAID SO, and in the magazines VOGUE, REAL SIMPLE, MORE, NEWSWEEK, ORGANIC STYLE, TRAVEL AND LEISURE (FAMILY) and others. She lives in Princeton, NJ with her husband (Irish poet Paul Muldoon, poetry editor at The New Yorker and Princeton poetry professor) and two children.
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1. What inspired you to write this book?
I've been fascinated by competitive college admissions since I ran the gauntlet myself, back in…um…1978. 30 plus years later, as so many of us parents know, it's far, far worse. More interesting, however, is the place these colleges (and in particular, their admissions offices) have come to occupy in our culture. It isn't an exaggeration to say that whenever we're talking about money, class, success, immigration, race…and of course that perennial headliner, PARENTING, we're talking about college admissions.
2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I'm more interested in ideas than messages, but certainly I wanted to invite readers to examine the admissions issue from the other side of the fence -- that is, from the perspective of those who make the decisions. And without satire. Admissions have been (rightfully, I'm sure) satirized in lots of novels, with varied effectiveness, but it's deadly serious to almost all of us. What must it feel like to have thousands of wonderful, qualified and fascinating kids parade through your mind every year, and have to choose only a few of them? What must it feel like when virtually everyone you interact with is furious at you? And of course, there's the protagonist herself, who is a terribly fractured and complex and not always likable person. For her, the other meaning of the word "admission" comes to be painfully significant.
3. How much of the book is realistic?
The admissions information is very realistic, to the best of my understanding. With the exception of one major plot development late in the novel, I have no hesitation in saying that everything Portia experiences, on a professional level, is fairly ordinary. In addition to my own experience as an outside reader at Princeton, I read everything I could and interviewed admissions officers from other tip tier colleges.
4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
There's a mistake somewhere, which several readers have pointed out to me with great glee. A very minor character named Jordan was once male and became female during one of the rewrites, whereupon I apparently forgot to change a pronoun somewhere. I'm sorry!
5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Starting is always the hardest. But it's all hard. Not hard in the same way that working in a factory or a mine or as a custodian is hard, but hard.
6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Every time I write a novel I learn…and this will sound bizarre…that I can write a novel. You have to relearn this every time because your brain forgets not only how to do it but that you've actually done it before. It's a pretty cruel thing, and part of why beginning a book is so difficult.
7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I have always loved language. Whenever I'm asked this question I try to answer it, but then I give up and cite Sylvia Plath, who said it better than I ever could, in her essay "Ocean 1212W": I saw the gooseflesh on my skin. I did not know what made it. I was not cold. Had a ghost passed over? No, it was the poetry. A spark flew off Arnold and shook me, like a chill. I wanted to cry: I felt very odd. I had fallen into a new way of being happy.
8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Jane Austen forever. Also: Cathleen Schine, Elinor Lipman, Meg Wolitzer, Tom Perrotta, Alison Lurie, Martin Amis, Jonathan Coe. My personal top four novels: Pride and Prejudice, Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson), My Name is Asher Lev (Chaim Potok) and Frederick Forsythe's The Odessa File. (Don't knock it till you've read it.)
9. Tell us your latest news.
Admission is being developed into a film by Paul Weitz, the director of About a Boy, for Tina Fey. I've started a new novel, but it's going to be a long one so there's no end in sight. I've just finished a travel article for the New York Times (Travel) section, which should be out in a month or so. It's about mudlarking in the Thames -- an amazing experience.
10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
It's amazing to have readers! This is the first of my four novels which seems to be having a life, so that's a wonderful experience for me. I'm always glad to speak with book groups who are reading my book. Feel free to contact me by sending an email to my agent (firstname.lastname@example.org) with "Forward to Jean Hanff Korelitz" in the subject line. If I possibly can, I'll phone in or drop by if you're in the NY/NJ area.
ABOUT ADMISSION: "Admissions. Admission. Aren't there two sides to the word? And two opposing sides...It's what we let in, but it's also what we let out." For years, 38-year-old Portia Nathan has avoided the past, hiding behind her busy (and sometimes punishing) career as a Princeton University admissions officer and her dependable domestic life. Her reluctance to confront the truth is suddenly overwhelmed by the resurfacing of a life-altering decision, and Portia is faced with an extraordinary test. Just as thousands of the nation's brightest students await her decision regarding their academic admission, so too must Portia decide whether to make her own ultimate admission. Admission is at once a fascinating look at the complex college admissions process and an emotional examination of what happens when the secrets of the past return and shake a woman's life to its core.
For more information on Jean and Admission, please visit JeanHanffKorelitz.com
Congratulations to our winner: Heather!