Skidmore professor scores success with debut novel ‘Vladimir’

Playwright Julia May Jonas started writing novels before, but never finished. “I’ve written many early novels and always wanted to write a novel, but someone would often call me to write a play or do a workshop and I’d put the novel aside and never see it again. “, she said. .

Jonas credits the pandemic for allowing him to finish his first novel, “Vladimir.”

“I started writing this a month after everything went into lockdown. The novel became my company, my escape, my source of pleasure. Because theater companies have closed for so long, I could stick with this novel and finish it, but there was also something about the narrator’s voice that really unlocked me as a writer.

When Jonas, who teaches in the drama department at Skidmore College, wrote the first line of the novel – “When I was a boy I loved old men and I could tell they loved me too” – she knew that she had tapped into a very singular voice, and she wanted to continue writing to explore the consciousness of the narrator.

a“The tone of that first line intrigued me, and I was fascinated by this character and wanted to go deeper and explore who she was. The mystery of the narrator made me write.

It was also liberating for Jonas to write a novel. “When I write a play, I know it will be performed by many other people. When I write a play, it’s like drawing a map knowing that the director will make changes, that the scene would be different and the performers would offer choices. I felt so free to write this novel. It was a great feeling to know that the words I put on the page were exactly what I wanted.

There were two main seed ideas she wanted to explore in this book. “I wanted to write about a woman who had been brought down by crimes she knew about but did not commit, and I also wanted to write about a 58-year-old woman who still feels lust even though society, especially in our country, believes that the desire of an older woman is supposed to fade.

The main character is a popular anonymous English teacher at a small liberal arts college who finds herself in love with Vladimir Vladinsky, a highly respected young author who has recently joined the English department.

“Here is someone who has always seen himself on the right side of history. She is progressive, has the respect of her students and her peers, but suddenly she finds that the ground is shifting beneath her. I’ve always been fascinated by people who need to find their way in a changing world. She also wants to maintain some desire in how she is seen, and she would like to explore her own desires.

Part of Vladimir’s appeal is that she wants what he has. “He’s at the beginning of his life, at the beginning of his career and at the beginning of parenthood. He also has so much respect in college for being such an acclaimed writer. She wants everything he has. His writing career never took off, and on some level she knows that as a man, as he gets older, he will become more attractive because she will become less desirable,” Jonas said.

As a reader, much of the fun of “Vladimir” is knowing how far the narrator will go with her attraction to him. “From the earliest days of writing this novel, I had this image of him strapped to a chair. That was the image I was writing about, and I let it lead me to the stage, without whether that event would actually happen. I like characters who do something questionable on impulse and then have to deal with the consequences.

The book received rave reviews, and reviewers point to the humor in the narrator’s observations. “I had no intention of writing jokes, but I knew his voice was funny to me,” Jonas said. She’s a very intelligent woman and her outlook on the world, her observations of academia and the people around her were funny. I just let that voice out.

She loved setting the story on a college campus and imagined the architecture and landscape to be Skidmore. “Most college campuses are very closed, like Skidmore, they are small liberal enclaves, surrounded by red state societies. Teachers are often treated like celebrities who have enormous power and responsibility in this small world. This can sometimes create a very tense environment for students and teachers.

Since the book’s release in February, Jonas has been busy with family life, interviews and publicity events. “I took a year off to have a baby and I’m thinking of going back to Skidmore next year. I currently live in Brooklyn so there are things we’ll have to sort out, but I’m back to work on another novel, and I have a series of plays coming out in a theater in Brooklyn in 2023, so my job and being a parent of two young kids keeps me busy.

“Vladimir” by Julia May Jonas

Simon and Schuster, 238 pages, $27

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