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December 3, 2010

Author Julie Orringer Reads From Invisible Bridge

Walt Whitman Writers Series Celebrates Local Authors

With inspiration and an education from epic tomes including Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and George Eliot's Middlemarch, Julie Orringer produced the highly acclaimed novel The Invisible Bridge, which she shared with a crowd of literature lovers at St. Francis College for the latest event in the Walt Whitman Writers Series on November 3.

Orringer began the event reading from a key chapter in the novel; the first meeting between two main characters from this 1930's story about Jewish Hungarians living in Paris. Orringer's subtle voice commanded the room as the audience sat as silent as 1st grade students listening to their teacher read aloud. Through the text, she related intertwined and intergenerational stories of grief. (Watch the whole reading)

Orringer said her mother is of Hungarian descent, coming to the United States in 1956, while her grandfather served in a Hungarian forced labor battalion during the Holocaust. "We are encouraged to look into our own experience when we first begin to write," said Orringer. But while some of the basic facts are from her family history, the story took numerous twists and turns that are completely unrelated to her grandfather's life. (Watch an interview with an SFC student)

During a question and answer session, Orringer spoke candidly about learning the complexity required in building a novel. With Tolstoy and Eliot as her teachers she took in the Realism movement of 19th century literature and crafted the story of the young protagonist, Andras, who falls for the older Claire Morgenstern. Orringer said that Andras' affections were a complete surprise to her and only came to her as she continued writing the story.

In writing a novel instead of the short stories which compose her first book, How to Breathe Underwater, Orringer said she feels a lot more at home because a novel allows you to do more with the characters. She explained that with a short story, it's so brief that you are not living with the character, but in a novel, you are able to see right through their eyes.

When asked why she felt there needed to be another book about the Holocaust, Orringer said that she believes the story of the Jews of Hungary was never adequately told and their story is news to some or most of those who listened to her speak.

Describing the writing process, Orringer said it took her seven years to complete the book. She told the audience how when it came time to do the first edit she was driven to tears when she saw how much work there was to do. She realized that she needed to cut hundreds of pages of work from her more than 1,000 page first draft. The completed novel checks in at more than 620 pages.

Julie Orringer is the fourth speaker in the Walt Whitman Writers Series which brings top contemporary authors to St. Francis to share their work and writing experiences with students, faculty and the entire Brooklyn community. Previous authors include Jonathan Lethem, Darcey Steinke, and Rick Moody.

By Richard Loutfi '10

St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City's five boroughs and beyond.
St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201

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