Craig Nova is the award-winning author of 14 novels and one autobiography. His most recent novel, The Informer, was named a New Yorker Best Book of 2012. His next novel, All the Dead Yale Men, a sequel to The Good Son, will be published in June 2013. Nova's writing has appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, The New York Times Magazine, and Men’s Journal, among others. He has received an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2005 he was named Class of 1949 Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
“One of our best” novelists you may not know
“Craig Nova is a fine writer, one of our best,” writes Jonathan Yardley, book critic for the Washington Post. “If you haven’t read him, the loss is yours.” “He’s a novelist who has yet to write a supermarket bestseller…but he has written at least two American classics that will likely resonate after his death, the way the poor-selling ‘Great Gatsby’ did for poor ol’ F. Scott Fitzgerald,” writes David Bowman of Salon.com.
Nova’s life has been a plethora of experience, almost like something straight out of Hollywood — where Nova, coincidence or not, was raised. From rebellious and alienated youth in the Hollywood Hills to graduation from University of California at Berkeley during the turbulent 1960s; from starving artist years in New York City to a placid and content writing life in more rustic parts, Nova’s rich experience has made him “an artist in full command,” as Yardley says.
Raised during the Golden Age of Hollywood, Nova was unfazed by the star-studded environment of his childhood. “Like all kids, I thought that my immediate surroundings were perfectly natural and that the whole world was just like Hollywood,” says Nova. “In fact, I think my entire life has been spent correcting this misperception, or at least realizing that there is a difference between the way things appear and the way they really are.
“I remember playing with Jayne Mansfield’s daughter when I was about eight, and racing Steve McQueen on Mulholland when I was 16,” recounts Nova. As a teenager, he attended the famed and celebrity saturated Hollywood High. There he, with most of the Mouseketeers as classmates, lived out his share of youthful rebellion.
Nova made up for those minor transgressions by being a diligent student at the University of California at Berkeley, from which he graduated just weeks before the Summer of Love. “When I was there, someone in the state senate stood up and said, ‘A course at Berkeley is a course in sex, drugs, and treason.’ I have to say he was damn right.”
After graduation, Nova moved to New York City and attended Columbia University, where his writing ambitions flourished. There at Columbia, he met Jean Stafford, a profound influence who introduced him to “the writing life.” Upon publishing his first book, Turkey Hash in 1975, Nova won the Harper Saxton prize, putting him in the ranks of such esteemed writers as Sylvia Plath and James Baldwin. “I assumed that when it was published, it would change my life,” he says, “Of course, not a lot happened. I ended up driving a taxicab in New York.”
The years between Nova’s first and third novel found him struggling, not only to write, but also to survive. He worked a variety of odd jobs constantly balancing attempts to support himself with his writing endeavors. In addition to driving a cab, his diverse experiences included carpentering in SoHo and managing a small real estate empire. “There were some very hard times here, going hungry, ending up on the street, broke,” Nova recollects. “I find it hard to remember the will it took to go on writing under those circumstances.”
During Nova’s early years in New York City, he met his wife Christina at a party. Describing their first encounter in his memoir Brook Trout and the Writing Life, Nova writes, “Like all chance meetings that turn out differently than one supposes, I almost did not go to this party.” To get away from the city, he and Christina would venture up to her small house in the country on weekends with increasing frequency. Christina gave him his first fly rod, with which he caught a brook trout during one of their escapades to the house. The brook trout, then merely a fish, would go on to reappear throughout Nova’s life, serving as a powerful link between intimate events and, eventually, giving the title to his memoir. Of his and Christina’s decision to wed, he writes, “We planned to get married, and then we did.”
Nova’s fourth book, The Good Son, received a substantial advance from the publisher and met almost universal critical acclaim. When the young couple decided to leave New York City for a more serene life in the country, Christina quit her job at CBS, where she had been working in television news. “I managed the land as a tree farm, and I have to say this was one of the most happy times in my life,” Nova recalls. “I’d write in the morning and then work in the woods in the afternoons. And when I saw something in the woods, bears, deer, rugged grouse, foxes, they found a way into the book I was writing.”
After having two daughters, Craig and Christina moved to Vermont, where their kids went to school and he went on to write another five or six novels. “This was a lovely time, too, in that I would write in the morning and afternoon, and then cook for the children and Christina. Idyllic, in a way, but the difficulty of course is the nature of the writing life,” Nova says. “You are either on your way up or on your way down and this endlessly changing prospect made for a continual uneasiness.”
“When my children went away to college, I realized that I had some extra time on my hands,” says Nova. “I thought it would be a good idea to share some of what I had learned after those years alone in a room.” In 2005 he was offered an endowed chair at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and accepted. There, he serves as 1949 Distinguished Professor of the Humanities.
As for the brook trout, Nova writes, “these fish are forever associated in my mind with the depths of thankfulness for good fortune, just as they always reminded me of beauty and a sense of what may be possible after all.” He continues to fish for brook trout.
Works by Craig Nova
Read Craig's blog, The Writing Life.
Learn more about Craig Nova at Random House