Professor’s Novel Picked for Barnes and Noble Program

English professor Jerry Gabriel's book Drowned Boy will be released in January (Photo by Matt Molek).
English professor Jerry Gabriel's book Drowned Boy will be released in January (Photo by Matt Molek).

Professor Jerry Gabriel’s new book, Drowned Boy, was awarded the Mary McCarthy prize in 2008 by Andrea Barrett and picked by Barnes & Noble for the “Discover Great New Writers” program.

Drowned Boy is the story of main character Nate Holland’s early life. According to Barnes and Noble, the book is “an unsentimental portrait of rural America…a collection of linked stories that reveals a world of brutality, beauty, and danger in the forgotten landscape of small-town basketball tournaments and family reunions.”

“The book is actually a collection of stories that are related…Its narrative arc is very loose,” Gabriel said. The seven stories and novella follow Nate Holland from age six to twenty-four.

“It’s set in a small town in Eastern Ohio — Moraine — which is a fictional version of my hometown,” said Gabriel. “I would say many of [the stories] came from experiences and growing up there.”

But, Gabriel said, the stories are only loosely based in real life experiences. Stories might evolve from memories or scenarios, and “some of them just come out of the blue,” he said.

Though Gabriel wrote the first story for the book 15 years ago while in graduate school, he completed the majority of the material between 1999 and 2001. In 2007, Gabriel went back to the collection of stories that would become Drowned Boy and worked through the material once more.

“Writing is something that I started to do in college…and I just never really stopped.” Although he wasn’t a reader — “I didn’t grow up reading books,” Gabriel said — he stumbled into an Intro to Literature class as an undergraduate and was introduced to contemporary fiction. “I was kind of hooked,” he said. “I’d always thought of literature as having little or nothing to do with me. I saw that these were just stories about people I knew and they meant something to me. Basically from that moment or shortly thereafter I’ve written.”

Gabriel’s writing has received praise from critics and friends alike. “I have had the pleasure of swapping creative work with Jerry Gabriel, and over our meals and discussions about our respective stories, what I’ve come to appreciate most about his writing is how his fiction must be read twice–once for pleasure and again for insight,” wrote Professor Jennifer Cognard-Black.

“The stories Jerry tells are of breath and bone, heart and muscle; they are tales about love and strife between brothers, about the difficult emotional distances between fathers and sons, about the mysterious workings of the heart between wives and husbands,” said Cognard-Black. “In other words, regardless of what he writes about, Jerry’s stories are about people and their messy, complicated, and vital connections to each other; they are fully of the human. His fiction is meant to provoke and perturb as it addresses who we are in the truer world of our imaginations, and as such, I am not the least surprised that Barnes and Noble has chosen his new novel as a book readers should have on their shelves.”

Professor Gabriel is a visiting assistant professor at the College. He has degrees from The Ohio State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and his work has appeared in several different magazines. Drowned Boy will be released in January of 2010.

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