Brandon Taylor’s 2020 debut novel, True life, was a finalist for the prestigious Booker Prize and was hailed as one of the best books of the year. His highly anticipated sophomore novel – also a largely “campus novel” involving characters who attend the Iowa Writer’s Workshop (where Taylor earned his MFA IRL) – will be published by Riverhead in May 2023. It’s a beautifully written novel about the promise of youth, the search for one’s tribe and one’s calling. Oprah Daily has the exclusive cover reveal.
We asked Taylor why he and his publisher chose the image they made for the book cover, a painting titled by artist Logan T. Sibrel Chin Smooch. He told OD Books VP Leigh Haber, “To me, it captures a real sense of intimacy and warmth.” Taylor added that what’s depicted “could be a kiss, it could be CPR. It could be that this man is sleeping. I love that there can be all these different interpretations of a seemingly familiar tender scene. That suits the novel very well for me.”
Iowa City is ground zero for this group of lovers and friends just beginning their adult lives, grappling with questions about whether art is rooted in trauma, or if giving up a dance career to become an investment banker is a sell-out. Scholarly, intimate, hilarious, poignant, the novel is also an exploration of class, gender and racial differences.
In its press materials, the publisher describes The late Americans as “a novel about intimacy and precariousness, friendship and family of choice”. Taylor tells us that he himself chose to use “precariousness” because “it sums up where each of the characters stand: all on the brink in crucial ways, whether spiritually, psychologically, career-wise, or economically.”
Taylor, who is also the author of the 2021 story collection dirty animals, is a kind of modern renaissance man. He earned his PhD in biochemistry before deciding to enroll in the writing program in Iowa. He is a longtime ballet fan and has previously written about the dance world. There are many artistic and literary references scattered throughout The late Americans. He curates a viral newsletter called Sweater Weather, in which he both professes his love for writers like Mavis Gallant and Jane Austen and, in the latter, blames the creators of Austen’s recent Netflix film adaptation conviction Being the perpetrator of a “hate crime”. Some might say he is a provocateur.
However, what attracts Taylor to his fiction is the excavation of the minute microstructures of social interaction. He says: “I always say that I was raised by wolves where my family didn’t do much to socialize me. By the time I got into school and later college, other people seemed to instinctively know how to make friends or how to be in intimate situations while I had no idea. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been very curious about what people say after an argument or just before sex or just before a kiss. As a writer, I’m curious about all of the strange stillness that occurs in our daily interactions with other people. I always try to immerse myself in those moments and find a language for them.”
Leigh Haber is Vice President, Books, Oprah Daily and O Quarterly. She is also the director of Oprah’s Book Club.
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