When I read “Flatscreen,” the first novel by Newton native Adam Wilson, high school insecurities and regret over not taking part in the famous scandalous senior scavenger hunt rushed over me. Unlike my similar feelings during “Mean Girls,” this actually was like my high school experience, coming from the imagination of one of my fellow Newton South High School Class of 2000 alumni. And given that we went to Newton South, it’s also not surprising that Adam is yet another talented Jewish author amongst a plethora of highly regarded Jewish authors (we are the people of the book, after all!). But other than growing up in the Jewish bubble of Newton, what makes a “Jewish author”? Regarded by fellow Jewish author Gary Shteyngart as one to read, Adam made quite an entrance onto the literary scene with “Flatscreen.” On Wednesday, March 5, he’ll be making a home appearance at Harvard Book Store to read from his new collection of short stories, “What’s Important Is Feeling.”
Not surprisingly, Adam is often asked if he considers himself to be a Jewish author. His attitude is, “I don’t care what people call me, as long as they read my books!” And since Eli Schwartz, the main character in “Flatscreen,” portrays such a raw and honest truth of the culture that is Jewish suburban life, there’s no question that it makes the reader think a level deeper about Jewish themes, despite the fact that Adam says, “As for putting Jewish themes in my work, it’s not a conscious decision…I’m Jewish and grew up in a Jewish community, so Jewish things are a part of my life.”
In his new collection there’s a story about a young woman torn between siding with her leftist pro-Palestine friends and her Zionist parents. In the end she doesn’t come down on either side. “I wasn’t trying to make a political point with the story, or write a polemic, but rather to illustrate a problem faced by a lot of young, liberal American Jews, myself included—a problem that doesn’t have an easy answer,” Adam says. “It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, and it just sort of popped into the story.”
Aside from his Jewish upbringing, Adam is constantly reading books and is inspired by writers like Grace Paley, Leonard Michaels and Stanley Elkin. And whether he considers himself to be a Jewish author or not, he’s certainly proud to be a National Jewish Book Award nominee and in the realm of winners like Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Cynthia Ozick and so many more. “To even be in proximity to these writers feels insane to me,” Adam says.
So how does this author tap into his Jewish side? Often through Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Drake! “My Jewish experience is pretty secular. I’m not religious and my connection to Jewishness is mostly cultural—my Jewish heroes are artists and writers, and that’s the part of my heritage that I treasure,” he says.
Possibly sound familiar to you? Hear more of Adam’s work and meet this talent in the flesh on March 5. He’ll even be there with fellow native Paul Rome, who will be reading from his novel “We All Sleep in the Same Room.”
Now that Adam calls Brooklyn home, the question must be asked: What does he miss most about home? “NESN,” he says. Score one for Boston!