About the Author: Chris Bohjalian '82

Chris Bohjalian '82

Chris Bohjalian
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Current Home
Lincoln, VT

Date of Birth
August 12

Place of Birth
White Plains, NY


Amherst College
During one four-year period growing up, I went to four different public schools -- a different school for each grade.
That wasn't a bad education, either.

Favorite Amherst Class
I really enjoyed both ILS (Introduction to Liberal Studies) courses I took my first year.  In "The Copernican Revolution" in the autumn I read Dante for the first time; in "Perspectives on the Professions" in the spring I was introduced to the fiction of James Gould Cozzens.  (Is it any wonder that years later so many of my characters would be lawyers in small towns?)  I also enjoyed the "Literature of the Great War" and Theodore Greene's American Studies seminar about the 1920s.  One of my great misfortunes at Amherst?  I never had a course with William Pritchard and so I didn't meet him until after I had graduated.

Favorite Amherst Professor

Any could earn that distinction.  But if we are going to play American Idol, certainly among the finalists would be Hugh Hawkins, Theodore Greene, Stanley Rabinowitz, Barry O'Connell, and David Wills.  

Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
My older brother - Andy, Class of 1977 - was spectacularly happy there.

Awards and Prizes
New England Book Award; Anahid Literary Prize; Numerous "Best Books" lists, including the Washington Post and St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Books of the Year for Skeletons at the Feast.

Favorite Books
To Kill a Mockingbird; Catch-22; The Great Gatsby; The Cider House Rules; The Voyage of the Narwhal; Sophie's Choice

Favorite Authors
John Irving; Scott Fitzgerald; Joyce Carol Oates

Number of Languages Your Books Have Been Translated Into
Number of Movies that Are Based on Your Books
Number of Novels You Started to Write but Scrapped and Molder Now in the Archives of the Frost Library

Tips for aspiring writers
Read lots. Have a thick skin. And write often -- and write about things that interest you passionately. Writing teachers often encourage young writers to write about what they know -- or, conversely, to write about things that are foreign to them. I think neither should be a cardinal rule. Instead, write about things that interest you, regardless of whether you know anything about the topic when you start or you're among the world's foremost experts.

The key is to care so deeply about the subject - to find it so extraordinary - that you are willing to give it at least a year or two of your life.  If you bring that level of enthusiasm to the story, it certainly increases the chances that you will create something of interest to strangers browsing in a library or bookstore.

One more thing: Have fun and avoid a mean spirit. I've never felt a writer needs to be tormented to succeed in this business.

Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author.
When I was 13, my family moved from a suburb of New York City to Miami, Florida, and we moved there the Friday before Labor Day weekend. I started school the following Tuesday, and then, that afternoon, went to see my new orthodontist -- a sadist, it would turn out, if ever there was one.

He gave me some orthodontic headgear that looked like the business end of a backhoe, and I had to wear said device for four hours a day when I was awake.

Since I couldn't (well, wouldn't) wear it during school, I had to wear it after school. It was inevitable, but I couldn't speak when I was wearing it.

And so I couldn't meet any kids in my neighborhood and make new friends.

Consequently, most afternoons I simply retreated to the Hialeah Miami Lakes Public Library and I read. I read the sorts of things any adolescent boy was likely to read in the mid-1970s. I read William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, Thomas Tryon's Harvest Home, and Peter Benchley's Jaws.

Also, in all fairness, I read a somewhat higher caliber of literature as well -- Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time and Joyce Carol Oates's Expensive People.

I read those books in the library as well as in the den in our new home, and from them I learned a great deal that would help me as an adult writer. I learned the importance of linear momentum in plot from Blatty and Benchley and Tryon.  And I learned about the importance of voice - and the role of person in fiction-- from Lee and Oates.

Of course, it's also evident that I wasn't an especially quick learner.  I amassed over 250 rejection slips before I ever sold a single word.


For more question and answer with Chris, check out his website.