2014 Summer Supper & Book Club: Elliott Holt Riffs on Writing about Cold War-era Washington

Elliott Holt

Minutes before the thunderstorms that lent the Capitol a brilliant rainbow two Tuesdays ago, author Elliott Holt walked into the PEN/Faulkner Summer Supper & Book to discuss her 2013 novel YouAre One of Them.

Upon its release, the Washington Post declared that, “Holt has found inventive ways to use language that suggest the porousness of identity, the correspondence between self and other, neighbor and foreigner, you and them. Her ingenuity brings distinction to this confident, crafty first novel.”

Set in Washington, D.C. and Moscow, You Are One of Them is a story about two girls growing up in 1980s Washington, D.C. whose friendship is forged and tested by events that marked the era.

9781594205286_YouAreOneOf_JKF.inddOn that evening, book club members reflected on the Sarah Zuckerman and Jennifer Jones’s friendship; the choice of D.C. and Moscow as settings and the story’s ambiguous ending.

Holt told the book club members that the book was loosely based on the Samantha Smith story, which fascinated her as a child growing up in Washington, D.C.  Holt pointed out that the character in her story, Jenny, who becomes a “child ambassador” dies in a plane crash (just as Samantha Smith did), but in her version the Samantha Smith-like character remerges to her friend Sarah, claiming her death was hoax.

Holt, who has also lived in Moscow, said the choice of setting the story in these theaters of the Cold War was because Washington, D.C. and Moscow offered good backdrops for a story that revolves around that frigid conflict.

Last week the Summer Supper & Book Club read Danielle Evans’s short story collection, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, and in preparation for tonight’s meeting, students have read David Ebenbach’s Between Camelots.

— Kangsen Feka Wakai
Writers in Schools Intern

Episode 27: Ayana Mathis & Justin Torres in conversation with Elliott Holt

Mathis (left), Torres (center), Holt (right)

Episode 27 features our Feb. 24th, 2014 reading “Survival Instincts: First-time Novelists on the Ties That Bind” featuring first-time novelists Ayana Mathis and Justin Torres. They were joined onstage at the Folger Shakespeare Library by fellow first-time novelist Elliott Holt, who moderated discussion between Mathis and Torres. 

Ayana Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, her first novel and a New York Times Bestseller, was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as the second selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. She lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY.

Justin Torres is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a recent Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and a recent fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, Granta, Tin House, and Glimmer Train. Among many other things, he has worked as a farmhand, a dog walker, a creative writing teacher, and a bookseller. He lives in Brooklyn, NY. 

Moderator Elliott Holt‘s short fiction and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Guernica, The Millions, the 2011 Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. Her first novel, You Are One of Them, was published in 2013 and was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for a first book.

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