Michael A.

Second Place Winner

The idea that my writing might be felt and understood by others is, to me, indistinguishable from magic.

Philip Roth once asserted that the novel is a "dying animal." For a long time, I agreed with this statement, and dismissed contemporary authors outright. Paul Auster countered Roth's literary death-knell by insisting that there will always be an innate need among humanity for stories. Though skeptical, I decided several months ago to read Auster's 2005 novel, "The Brooklyn Follies," in an effort to determine first-hand if modern literature can be as satisfying and substantial as the classics. To my complete surprise, I found "The Brooklyn Follies" to be a life-affirming, poignant and emotionally luminous novel.

The work chronicles the misadventures of Nathan Glass, a terminally-ill salesman-cum-writer who returns to his native Brooklyn in search of a "quiet place to die." In Brooklyn, Nathan compiles a compendium of human foolishness—"The Book of Human Folly"—and reconnects with his long-lost nephew, Tom. Nathan's journey is one of self-discovery and, in the author's words, "survival." There is, however, one overarching theme that I took away from Auster's brilliant work: that often-overlooked coincidences can contour the very shapes our lives assume.

Reading Paul Auster made me acutely aware of the infinite beauty of the silences between words, the crystalline emptiness of the page, and the temporal transcendence offered by the written word. To read, I realized, was to hear the whispered voices of the wise from times long passed rise like mists at the delicate blue hour, like stones skipped across a mirrorlike pond. I filled countless notebooks with observations of anything I thought worth remembering, and came to realize how cathartic and fulfilling writing can be.

When high school arrived, I began corresponding with some of my favorite writers, attended as many writerly gatherings as I could, and spearheaded my school's literary magazine. Soon, I recognized that, just as my life had been touched by the sound, sense, and suggestion of words in perfect collocation, I might be able to touch others' lives too. With a little temerity, and some teacherly inspiration, I began to submit poems and stories to magazines. The felicity of seeing one's name in print is among the greatest pleasures imaginable, and the idea that my writing might be felt and understood by others is, to me, indistinguishable from magic. I am deeply enamored with the architecture and possibilities of language, and feel as though studying English and Creative Writing is the only sensible path for me - a realization spurred by my reading of Paul Auster's novel. My entire life is based upon the premise of telling stories. Preserving the ephemeral splendors of memory and time (and paradises) lost and regained is the reason I am alive.

Narrated in a shimmering, lyrical style that perfectly evokes New York's infinite quirks and uniquities, "The Brooklyn Follies" is among the most affecting novels I have ever read. Reading Auster has opened my eyes to life's exquisite madness and to the fragile beauty of chance, and for this, I am forever in his debt.