Recent grad's first novel attracts attention
All the while, he's continued to nurture his strong interest in creative writing. His perseverance is paying off with the publication of an anthology he edited this spring and of his first novel next spring.
The novel, "Everything Is Illuminated," grew out of his creative writing thesis project advised by Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides. It recently garnered international attention when a dozen publishers were vying for the North American rights to the work. Houghton Mifflin reportedly closed the deal for between $400,000 and $500,000.
Foer says that Oates was one of several Princeton faculty members with whom he developed strong relationships.
"Joyce Carol Oates was something of a mentor while I was at Princeton, always encouraging me to be more ambitious, more energetic," writes Foer in an e-mail interview.
During Foer's sophomore year, Professor James Seawright introduced him to the work of sculptor Joseph Cornell and his highly distinctive glassed-in box constructions.
"In my junior year, I began to assemble 'A Convergence of Birds,' an anthology of writing inspired by Cornell's bird boxes," Foer writes. Russell Banks, who taught Foer in his senior year, helped Foer gather work for the anthology, which will include writing by Oates, Bradford Morrow, Rick Moody, Robert Pinsky, Lydia Davis, Joanna Scott, Howard Norman, Diane Ackerman, Barry Lopez and Ann Lauterbach.
"The poems and stories will appear beside tipped-in plates of the boxes," Foer writes. "It will be a very beautiful book." The anthology will be published by Distributed Art Publishers in May.
Foer's novel will be the lead title on Houghton Mifflin's list next spring. It is loosely autobiographical, describing a trip he made to the Ukraine in the summer after his junior year.
"The protagonist is a young man named Jonathan Safran Foer -- Princeton student, vegetarian, glasses, etc.," Foer writes. "He makes a trip that I, the other JSF, actually made.... For five days, he searches the Polish/Ukrainian border for a woman who might be a link to a grandfather he never knew.
"After that, though, the similarities end," he writes, "and the novel becomes pure fiction. The narrator is not based on a real person. The nothing that I found was entirely unlike the nothing that JSF finds in the book. Reality was a springboard, but that's all."
Eric Chinski, the editor of "Everything Is Illuminated," writes, "What most distinguishes the book is its deep humanity and empathy -- all the stylistic innovation and daring are in the service of this larger purpose. The blend of high comedy and deep tragedy quite simply awed me and my colleagues here at Houghton Mifflin."
Foer, who also has written and edited for journals such as Conjunctions and The Review of Contemporary Fiction, says he believes very strongly in non-mainstream fiction.
"It's what I tend to like to read," he writes. "It's where 'the action' is. The kind of work published in alternative journals ... is what excites me the most."
Foer currently is working on another novel, set in a