Education and seduction collide in Brooklynite's new novel

Brooklyn writer Susan Choi, the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award-nominated author of “A Person of Interest” and “American Woman”, has just released her latest novel, “My Education” (Viking), which has garnered much attention and praise from esteemed writers and critics.

The story begins in 1992 when Regina Gottlieb begins her graduate education. Even before arriving on campus, she’s been warned about a particular professor – the handsome, brilliant Nicholas Brodeur – who has gained notoriety among the female population for his supposed sexual deviance.  Against her peers’ advice, Regina becomes Brodeur’s TA and is soon inextricably entwined in his world. But it is his wife, Martha, who ultimately complicates Regina’s circumstances.

Tracing Regina’s mistakes from the bedroom and beyond, Choi’s novel examines the complex intersection – and divergence – of desire and responsibility.

This summer, Choi will appear in Brooklyn to read from her novel, first at powerHouse Arena in DUMBO (July 17), and then at Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene (July 30).  Brooklyn Eagle recently checked in with the author, who spoke to us how mothering and teaching have informed her writing.

What inspired this story? 

As usual I think my answer is going to have to be:  having children.  I've become one of those people whose whole outlook on life was unexpectedly revised by the arrival of children.  I was really oblivious to children – their very existence, let alone their lives and needs – when I was a childless young woman. Pondering that change in myself got me thinking about what would happen if a young and naive and passionate and, it has to be said, rather self-centered young woman got involved with a lover who had a young child.  I could easily imagine that young woman's indifference and even selfishness, with regard to the child.  That's where this story got its start, although it quickly took several different directions. 

Did your experience as a professor inform and shape this novel?

I was a graduate student in English literature, but I never completed my degree, and so I don't really feel I can call myself a professor, although I have taught writing for years.  My experiences as a student – undergrad and grad – certainly informed this novel, as did my experiences as the daughter of a professor.  I've spent a lot of time around the academic world.

How do you balance writing and teaching?

Teaching really feeds my writing, especially teaching such talented and daring students as I've had the privilege to teach.  Teaching keeps me reading, and thinking, and articulating what works in writing and what doesn't, and without all that I think my writing would really suffer.  It's less about balancing the two than about recognizing that the two activities really support each other.

When did you move to Brooklyn, and in which neighborhood are you living?

I moved to Brooklyn in the summer of 1998, right before my first book came out.  Fifteen years ago!  I now live in Clinton Hill, where I've lived since 2004.

Where (in Brooklyn) do you like to go while reading or writing?

I'm a member of a really wonderful shared writers' workspace called Powderkeg, in a building on Flatbush Ave.  The building is a totally unique, funky space full of antique furniture and orphaned art works and totally random items like a gymnast's vault.


What are you working on now?
 

I'm nurturing a few ideas to see if they'll thrive, or wither.

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The July 17 event will begin at 7 p.m. powerHouse Arena is located at 37 Main St. in DUMBO.

The July 30 event will begin at 7:30 p.m. Greenlight is located at 686 Fulton St. in Fort Greene.

 

Susan Choi’s first novel “The Foreign Student” won the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction. Her second novel, “American Woman,” was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and her third, “A Person of Interest”, a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award. A recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation, in 2010 she received the PEN/W.G. Sebald Award. She teaches at Princeton and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and sons.

Image courtesy of Viking/Penguin Group