Please tell us something about
your book that we’re not going to
discover by reading book reviews
or marketing materials.
SD: Great question. Very rarely does a
reader see that the plot of Sweetbitter is
modeled after the plots of two novels
by Henry James: Portrait of a Lady
and The Ambassadors. While writing I
saw Sweetbitter as a modern twist on a
very old story, the loss of innocence.
The quintessential American “seeker,”
young and optimistic, receives a
sentimental education from two Old
World souls: mysterious, seductive,
and manipulative. Isabel Archer (from
Portrait) is one of the greatest literary
figures—she’s complicated, brutally
intelligent, and strong-willed. But
her limitation in life is her sincerity;
it creates the blind spots. I wanted
[my protagonist] Tess to embody all
of that—the strength, the appetite for
knowledge, but also the blindness. I
think that’s youth.
How much of your own life ex-
perience do you bring into your
fiction? What, or who, represents
a bit of you in your new novel?
SD: People will assume I’m Tess for
the rest of my life, but that was a
difficult character for me to write. I
couldn’t remember what it felt like to
be that new, I don’t think I ever was.
I identify more with Simone, that sort
of world-weary cynic.... And while I
don’t think I was as toxic as Simone
[when I managed restaurants], I know
what it feels like to have a complicated
Jacqueline Woodson ©Juna E. Nagle
N.Y.C.: Tales of the City—
A Reading from Three Novels
In Stephanie Danler’s debut novel, Sweetbitter (Knopf), a young woman lands a job as a back
waiter at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant and starts to navigate the chaotic,
enchanting, punishing, and privileged life she has chosen, as well as the remorseless and luminous city around her. Tim Murphy’s Christodora (Grove) follows a diverse set of characters
whose fates intertwine in a historic building in Manhattan’s East Village. Jacqueline Woodson’s
Another Brooklyn (Amistad) illuminates the formative time when childhood gives way to
adulthood and renders a powerful, indelible, and fleeting friendship that united four young lives.
TM: I originally thought
I would write a collection
of loosely linked short
stories, but the connections just kept tightening
as I wrote, leading to
Christodora. I did not have
some of the most key
connections and turning
points in the novel until
I was a third or more
of the way through. I
wanted writing the book
to feel how life feels, that
most days you are simply
moving forward with no
idea how things are going to turn out.
JW: Another Brooklyn is both a biography and a novel. It’s a biography of
the neighborhood Bushwick, originally called Bosjwick when it was settled
by the Dutch. One of those settlers
was a former enslaved person who
bought his freedom.
A lot of raw matter of my own life the
past 20 years is woven into
Christodora—mental illness, addiction, HIV,
struggle, recovery, relapse, re-recovery.