Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the acclaimed, bestselling novel Prep, which chronicles a young teen’s experiences at a New England Boarding School. Her writing has also appeared in a number of publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, and The Atlantic Monthly. Now with her second novel, The Man of My Dreams, she continues to exhibit just why so many have praised her work for its wit and depth of character.
Before her debut novel Prep hit bookshelves, Curtis Sittenfeld promised her ninth-grade English students that if the novel hit the New York Times Bestseller list she would buy pizza for the class. Well, I hope that her class enjoyed those pizzas, because Prep, a wry coming-of-age story set in a New England boarding school, became a surprise sensation upon its publication in 2005.
Sittenfeld knows the insular world of boarding schools all too well. When the precocious writer was a pre-teen, a recruiter from the exclusive prep school Groton came inquiring about Sittenfeld at her Cincinnati home. Curious about embarking on what she saw as a potential adventure, Sittenfeld decided to attend the school. As she told the Washington Post, "I just became enthralled by the idea of boarding school, and it happened to coincide with this period where I was restless and ready for a new adventure, in a 13-year-old's kind of way. I was just curious about the world. I wanted a change."
That change she sought would eventually become material for her first novel, the witty, insightful bestseller Prep, in which a smart and singular 14-year-old named Lee Fiora finds herself at the fictional Ault prep school near Boston. The shift from a life at home with a loving family to the elite Ault, with its pretty, pampered, yet cynical teenagers, is an eye-opening experience for Lee, whose wariness of their little society does not stop her from drifting into it. In her debut novel, 29-year old Sittenfeld already displayed a sure-handedness with character and dialogue that many of her older and more seasoned contemporaries would surely envy. Little did the high school English teacher know that her first novel would become such a runaway success, being that it had been rejected 14 times before finally being picked up by Random House. "One editor actually called my agent and turned it down, and then she called my agent back and said, 'I've never done this but I want to un-turn it down'," Sittenfeld says. "And then, she called again and turned it down." That editor is quite likely kicking herself now that Prep has not only made it to the New York Times bestseller list, but has received raves right down the line: The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Publisher's Weekly, etc. The New York Times named it one of the ten best books of 2005. Paramount Pictures has optioned its film rights. Sittenfeld's sophomore effort is The Man of My Dreams, yet another coming-of-age story, this time using a dysfunctional household rather than a ritzy prep school as the backdrop. The Man of My Dreams follows Hannah Gavener for over a decade, detailing the travails of her friendships, familial relationships, and therapy sessions. The book is yet another example of Sittenfeld's gift for crafting fully dimensional characters and blending drama and humor. Only recently published, The Man of My Dreams is already receiving accolades from the likes of The Library Journal and acclaimed short story writer Alice Munro. Who knows, Curtis Sittenfeld may even have to buy another round of pizza for her class.
Good To Know
A few fun facts about Sittenfeld from our interview:
"I eat so much fruit that my friends and family tease me about being a monkey."
"I have trouble staying awake past 10:00 p.m."
"I have a big crush on Bruce Springsteen (but then, who doesn't?)."
"When I was in junior high, my parents said they'd let me get my ears pierced if I made honor roll every quarter. And not to brag, but I did."