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On the True Pleasure of Finding An Advocate

It is difficult for me to share my current happiness, which compels an earnest tone that I fear is at odds with the anonymous intimacy of the internet. In the years spent making my first novel Subduction, a modern love story between an anthropologist and a hoarder’s son, I was anguished by my determination to tell a story worth the time we are here together.

With the love of those closest to me, whose support never flagged, even when I must have been intolerable, I kept going, draft after draft. It was hard, harder than I thought when I first started, hard enough that I will try again. And so I do want to honor this milestone in my journey toward giving back to literature what it has always given me: the solace of connection, the promise of empathy and the creation of shared understanding.

I am elated that Ria Julien of Frances Goldin Literary Agency will represent my books, beginning with Subduction. When I first read Ria’s bio on the Francis Goldin website, I was taken aback by how neatly our interests aligned. Ria “represents authors whose works offer a critique of power and social injustice.” She cares about literature in diaspora and translation. Her clients are postmodern prose stylists and investigative journalists. Perfect. She seemed perfect. What if my query couldn’t get past the slush pile?

It still feels surreal that I do not have to answer that question. After an initial phone call, Ria and I met at EN Japanese Brasserie in New York, where we discovered that we have more in common than cultural references and an appreciation for fresh tofu.

Ria told me that she listened to a live translation of Álvaro Enrigue’s Muerte Súbita for twenty hours before deciding to represent the novel, now out from Riverhead as Sudden Death and garnering praise. Enrigue reveals the kaleidoscopic nature of truth through a tennis match between Caravaggio and Quevado. I was fascinated by Sudden Death’s exploration of the banality of conquest and the evolution of God. He finds the sacred and the profane in the same canvas, always. Spanning the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Counter Reformation in Rome and his own email, Enrigue distills movers of history down to their most human impulses. In his hands, Hernán Cortés feels like a guy in a room.

I found Ria through Sudden Death. But twenty hours!

This woman loves books, I thought, the kinds of books that inspire me to be a better writer and make a better world, a prospect that seems more possible now that Ria will advocate for my work. A Trinidadian who moved to New York after coming to political and literary consciousness in Canada, Ria is also a practicing attorney. She cares about stories because she cares about people. I am humbled to be in the company of Enrigue and her other clients, who include biographer Colin Asher (read his gorgeous essay about Nelson Algren in The Believer), novelist Valeria Luiselli (who won the LA Times Fiction award for the second year in a row), hippie-smuggler-turned-TV-exec Richard Stratton, investigative reporters Greg Palast and Sonja Sharp, and the radical economist Richard Wolff. My people!

Co-run by Sam Stoloff and Ellen Geiger, Frances Goldin is home to many authors I admire, like Barbara Kingsolver and David Shields, who was chair of my thesis committee at the University of Washington’s Master of Fine Arts program. In a fun twist of fate, David’s agent Matt McGowan, who also represents Eula Biss and John D’Agata, will handle my subsidiary rights.

Being connected to writers whose works I have studied and taught evokes hope and dread that is hard to describe. When I first held a book that moved me, I wanted to believe but didn’t allow myself to claim that I could make someone feel this way. Some of my best reads have ached for that reason. It took many people a lot of years to help me harness my own yearning, a feat also faced by Peter and Claudia in Subduction. Many thanks to David for reading my drafts and giving my query a blurb that caught Ria’s eye.

In the photo below, Ria and I are standing in Frances Goldin Literary Agency’s new office, in front of shelves stocked with books they’ve helped bring into the world since 1977. I’m grateful to those who sustain my belief that I can make beautiful books, and to you, who have met the unbearably eager nature of this blogpost with an open heart.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Ria Julien and Kristen Young at Frances Goldin Literary Agency

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