Twenty-seven-year-old Manhattan native Jessica Soffer recently stopped by the bookstore she frequented as a child, McNally Jackson, to read from her newly published first novel, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots. Joining her for a post-reading Q&A was Colum McCann, winner of the National Book Award in 2009 for Let the Great World Spin and Soffer’s MFA professor at Hunter College.
Looking like a proud father, McCann encouraged Soffer to bask in the evening’s celebration. “These are the moments we teach for,” said McCann, who has a row of books in his office written by previous students.
Apricots—the story of two women who find desperately needed companionship through a shared love of food—was born in a workshop led by McCann. According to Soffer, the source material was a 700- to 800-word “staccato recounting of a woman’s life of pain from the time she was a young girl to the time she was an adult. It was really dark.”
Yet McCann urged her to expand the story.
“For the first time, I felt like there was a character I met that I latched onto that seemed like she could have legs,” Soffer said, “that she was more than just a character in a story, more than just a figment in my imagination that I could build a whole world for.”
Apricots is not autobiographical, though Soffer admitted to previously pilfering material from her life: “I think writers need to get a certain kind of autobiography out of their system. Constantly, I think writers go back to scenes again and again and to memories again and again. Once they’re out, they can move on and write something that is actually creative and can actually be smart and they can develop a world that really feels unto itself a world.”
So what about her own relationship to food? “My father’s mother was a healer in Baghdad and very conscious of the ways food can do more than nourish us, but sustain us. Iraqi Jews ate according to color. They do not eat any black food—they would peel an eggplant before eating it. They ate brightly colored food to encourage happiness. If you wanted to find love, you would eat certain foods—it’s all very spiritual.”
As for what’s next—the question everyone’s been asking her lately—Soffer isn’t sure. But she’s excited.
“I am so anxious to work on another big thing. If there is anything I’ve learned from this process it’s that I love writing.”
The attached photo comes from: http://bornandbread.blogspot.com/
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.