2016 National Book Award Longlist, Fiction
What Belongs to You
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Macmillan)
National Book Foundation: Who did you write this book for?
Garth Greenwell: The truest answer is that I didn’t have any audience in mind. I was living in Sofia, Bulgaria, and I was working full-time as a high school teacher; I woke up at 4:30 to write for two hours every morning before school. I didn’t show anyone what I was working on, and I didn’t think I was working on a novel. If I wasn’t teaching—on weekends or in vacations—I might go days without speaking English. All of that made writing the book the most intense experience of privacy I’ve ever had. I remember feeling that the hours I spent writing were real life, that everything else was a kind of performance. I wrote the book as a way of exploring a place that often baffled me, I think; and I wrote the book because writing allowed me what felt like the most authentic experience of myself.
ABOUT THE BOOK
On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and want.
About the Author
Garth Greenwell is the author of a novella, Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Debut Fiction Prize and a Lambda Award. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, he holds graduate degrees from Harvard University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he was an Arts Fellow. His short fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, A Public Space, StoryQuarterly, and VICE. What Belongs to You is his first novel. He lives in Iowa City, where he holds the Richard E. Guthrie Memorial Fellowship at the University of Iowa.
- TWITTER: @GarthGreenwell
- FACEBOOK: facebook.com/ggreenwriter
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