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YLS Student Authors, Part Two: Adam Haslett's Short Stories Garner Recognition

(YLS classmates Michael Johnston and Adam Haslett were both busy in the fall term taking classes--and promoting books. Johnston and Haslett are also classmates in the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers program, Johnston among the nonfiction selections for Fall 2002 and Haslett on the fiction side for Summer 2002. This article is the second of two.)

It might be hard for Adam Haslett '03 to pick a single highlight for the year 2002.

In July, a clear highlight was the publication of his first book, a collection of short stories, called You Are not a Stranger Here. Then his book was selected for the Today Show Book Club by author Jonathan Franzen. Haslett appeared on the television program twice in the month of August, and his book climbed onto best seller lists. In October, You Are not a Stranger Here was nominated as one of five finalists for the National Book Award in fiction.

By the close of 2002, Haslett's book appeared on lists of the year's best books and on holiday shopping guides published in newspapers around the world.

Much of what has happened, especially being nominated for the National Book Award, was far beyond anything Haslett anticipated at the beginning of 2002. "It just wasn't in my horizon of things I was imagining," he says.

All of this recognition translates into the fact that his book has been read by thousands of people, and Haslett says that this is "hugely gratifying." "The two ways that I experience it are people coming to the readings and coming up to me after the reading and talking to me, and then when I get notes and letters... I've been glad to hear ... that there are senior citizens who saw the Today show and came to my reading and liked that story, and then there are twenty-year-old kids who have read other ones. And so that range of people who have been interested in the book has been really satisfying."

On the Today show, Haslett directly faced a cadre of readers, a book club from California, called the Well Read Winos. The host of the show started by asking whether they had liked the book, and the vote was unanimous--they liked it. The readers said that they got right into Haslett's stories, and were fascinated by his characters and the relationships between the characters. Some of the readers were struck by the dark material in some of Haslett's stories, which portray intractable mental illness and people in despair. They asked if his stories were nonetheless trying to find a positive outcome in some way. Haslett answered: "The hopeful part is actually the reading experience and people having an emotional reaction to the book, which is what's satisfying about hearing from people, more than there being a happy ending at the end of any given story."

There are readers and then there are critics. You Are Not a Stranger Here was reviewed in dozens of publications and Haslett admits to reading his notices. "I've yet to graduate to that stage where I'm so above it that I do not read my reviews," he says with a chuckle. Fortunately, once again, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, although there was great variety in what reviewers liked specifically. One reviewer's favorite story could be the next's least favorite.

Haslett's nomination as a finalist for the National Book Award was one more positive review, of a sort. The nominations were made by a panel of judges, all of whom are accomplished writers themselves. "It's affirmation from your peers--or seniors," Haslett says.

Haslett spent several weeks of the summer and fall of 2002 on book tours and attending a writers conference, but he also returned to the Law School in September and registered for a full slate of classes. He reports that some people were surprised that he went back to school after establishing himself as an author. "I would never even think about not going back," Haslett says. "I definitely want to finish the degree. It's something that I have substantive interest in myself, and I want to keep at it to balance the rest of my life."

What will happen in 2003 for Haslett? Clearly it's hard to predict everything that will occur in a year, but he's scheduled to graduate from YLS in May, and he plans to work on a novel to follow up on You Are Not a Stranger Here. "At the moment I'd say it's more in the period of gestation than active pursuit," Haslett says of his next book. But he has made some vital preparations. "I built myself a table to write at," says Haslett. "I like a low table, and it's very difficult to find a low table, so.... I just went to the Home Depot, got all the wood, and banged it together, and finished it off."