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Associated Press, Wall Street Journal Among Media Praising “Quiet Dell” By Jayne Anne Phillips

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Phillips Is MFA Program Director, Professor at Rutgers University in Newark

Rutgers University, Newark, Professor Jayne Anne Phillips has done it again. Her latest novel, Quiet Dell, is being released this week but already is creating an even bigger stir than her last one, the award-winning Lark & Termite

The Associated Press calls Quiet Dell “an extraordinary achievement, a mesmerizing blend of fact and fiction that borrows from the historical record, including trial transcripts and newspaper accounts, but is cloaked in the shimmering language of a poet.”   Publishers Weekly lists it as one the “best new books for the week of Oct. 14, 2013,” while the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) describes Quiet Dell as “a tricky yet compelling and successful melding of truth and fiction.” The Wall Street Journal says that “Phillips had her work cut out for her when she decided to retell the story and transcend the bloody spectacle to find, as one character puts it, ‘beauty arisen from devastation.’”

The “bloody spectacle” and “devastation” referred to by the Journal are the real-life basis of the novel: the 1931 murders of a woman and her three children, the victims of serial killer Harry Powers, in Phillips’ home state of West Virginia. Phillips, director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Rutgers-Newark, “grew up hearing the story of Quiet Dell as a myth or even a ghost story...” 

Her mother’s memories of the crime “made it personal for me,” Phillips told LARB writer MaryAnne  Kolton.  “She told me of holding her mother’s hand one hot day in August, walking along the dusty road that was lined with glinting black cars as far as she could see, and hearing the banging as crowds took the ‘murder garage’ apart piece by piece for souvenirs.”

From those memories Phillips created what Kolton describes as “a harrowing narrative of loneliness, desperation, and untold risk.”  The Wall Street Journal says of Quiet Dell: “Its success is due to a bold decision: Ms. Phillips has written a serial killer novel in which the serial killer hardly appears.

According to The New York Times review, “Phillips portrays Harry Powers’s monstrousness through a host of indelible details — his round spectacles and pocket watch, his prissy unctuousness. But there’s always something a little off about his assumed blandness. The more normal he tries to seem, the more we see the ‘ragged, fattened wolf’ that lurks inside.”  The Times review ends by declaring, “After Quiet Dell, no one will forget Harry Powers.”

Quiet Dell has also received praise from the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Boston Globe, and the Philadelphia Review of Books.

Lark & Termite was a finalist for both the 2009 National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Phillips is also the author of MotherKind (2000), Shelter (1994) and Machine Dreams (1984), and two collections of widely anthologized stories, Fast Lanes (1987) and Black Tickets (19790.  She developed the MFA program in 2007, drawing upon the urban energy of Newark and the diversity of the Rutgers campus.  Phillips is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Bunting Fellowship. She has been awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction (1980) and an Academy Award in Literature (1997) by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her work has been translated into 12 languages.

About the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Rutgers University, Newark
Jayne Anne Phillips developed the MFA in Creative Writing at Rutgers-Newark and is its director and one its fiction teachers. The program was hailed by Atlantic magazine as one of “Five Up and Coming Programs” in 2007, before it had even been launched. Its alumni include acclaimed young writers Christa Parravani, author of Her, A Memoir; Ryan McIlvain, winner of the Stegner Fellowship; and Evan Roskos, named one of Narrative’s Best New Writers.

Teachers in the program include award-winning authors such as Rigoberto González, Tayari Jones, Brenda Shaughnessy Alice Elliott Dark, James Goodman, Akhil Sharma, John Keene and Rachel Hadas.

For more about the MFA in Creative Writing at Rutgers-Newark: