Emily Barton

Emily Barton

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Emily Barton is an American novelist, critic, and academic. She is the author of two novels: The Testament of Yves Gundron (2000) and Brookland (2006).

Background and education

Barton was raised in New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

, where she attended Kent Place School
Kent Place School
The Kent Place School is an all-girls kindergarten through 12 independent college-preparatory day school in Summit, Union County, New Jersey, United States...

. She attended Harvard College
Harvard College
Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of two schools within Harvard University granting undergraduate degrees...

, from which she graduated summa cum laude and a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society. She also earned an MFA
Master of Fine Arts
A Master of Fine Arts is a graduate degree typically requiring 2–3 years of postgraduate study beyond the bachelor's degree , although the term of study will vary by country or by university. The MFA is usually awarded in visual arts, creative writing, filmmaking, dance, or theatre/performing arts...

 in fiction writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.


Barton’s first novel, The Testament of Yves Gundron, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in January 2000. The book’s titular character is an inventor in the primitive and isolated farming village of Mandragora. When Gundron invents the harness
A harness is a looped restraint or support. It can also be referred to as an "hitcharness", especially by the Jordanian Armed Forces. Specifically, it may refer to one of the following harness types:* Bondage harness* Child harness* Climbing harness...

 – a device which alters the nature of farming – the villagers' lives change irrevocably. As Yves begins to recount the story of these changes, Ruth Blum, a Harvard anthropologist, arrives to study the village. Although the novel at first appears to take place in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, Yves’s brother tells tales of travels to "Indo-China," and the villagers sing songs that are demonstrably examples of the blues
Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre that originated in African-American communities of primarily the "Deep South" of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads...


Some critics found Barton's technique of juxtaposing cultural milieus jarring. But many appreciated the novel's postmodern gamesmanship. In a rare blurb, the famously reticent writer Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American novelist. For his most praised novel, Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon received the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature...

 praised Yves Gundron as “[b]lessedly post-ironic, engaging and heartfelt—a story that moves with ease and certainty, deeply respecting the given world even as it shines with the integrity of dream,” and John Freeman, writing for Time Out New York, called it “An engrossing folktale that, in our technology-crazed era, ought to be required reading.” Yves Gundron was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2000. It has been translated into Dutch, French, Norwegian, and Greek.

Barton's second novel, Brookland, was published in 2006. Brookland takes as its basis Thomas Pope
Thomas Pope
Sir Thomas Pope , founder of Trinity College, Oxford, was born at Deddington, near Banbury, Oxfordshire, probably in 1507, for he was about sixteen years old when his father, a yeoman farmer, died in 1523....

’s Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow Bridge may refer to:Bridges :* Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a natural rock formation located in Utah, USA* Rainbow Bridge , in Kansas* Rainbow Bridge , on the United States – Canada border...

, a bridge that was proposed for the East River
East River
The East River is a tidal strait in New York City. It connects Upper New York Bay on its south end to Long Island Sound on its north end. It separates Long Island from the island of Manhattan and the Bronx on the North American mainland...

 nearly a hundred years before the construction of John Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Completed in 1883, it connects the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River...

, but which was never actually built. In Brookland, the bridge is the brainchild not of Pope but of a character invented by Barton: Prudence ("Prue") Winship, the proprietor of a successful gin distillery she inherited from her father. The novel is the story of the costs, both financial and personal, that the planning, construction, and ultimate destruction of the bridge exact from Prue and her community. On its publication, Brookland received widespread praise; in a review in the New Yorker magazine, Joan Acocella wrote that Prue Winship "is not a ‘good-models’ feminist heroine, nor is she one of the bad-girl heroines of second-stage feminism. She is a thorny, struggling soul. Together with the book’s profound treatment of the spiritual ills born of the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

, this wonderful character is Barton’s main gift to us.” Brookland was also named a New York Times Notable Book, and was named one of the twenty-five best works of fiction and poetry of the year by the Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California, since 1881. It was the second-largest metropolitan newspaper in circulation in the United States in 2008 and the fourth most widely distributed newspaper in the country....


Other writings

Barton’s fiction has appeared in Conjunctions
Conjunctions, is a biannual American literary journal based at Bard College. It was founded in 1981 and is currently edited by Bradford Morrow....

, Story magazine, and American Short Fiction
American Short Fiction
American Short Fiction is a nationally-circulated literary magazine based in Austin, Texas. Issued quarterly, American Short Fiction publishes short fiction, novel excerpts, and an occasional novella, and strives to publish work by both established and emerging contemporary authors...

, and she has published essays in such venues as Moistworks.com and the Boston Review
Boston Review
Boston Review is a bimonthly American political and literary magazine. The magazine covers, specifically, political debates, literature, and poetry...

. She frequently writes book reviews for the New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and Bookforum
Bookforum is a New York-based magazine devoted to books and the discussion of literature. It is edited by Albert Mobilio, Chris Lehmann, , and Michael Miller.-History: Bookforum was launched in 1994 as a literary supplement to Artforum...


Personal life

Barton currently teaches in the MFA programs at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 and New York University
New York University
New York University is a private, nonsectarian research university based in New York City. NYU's main campus is situated in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan...

  and serves as Lecturer in English at Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

, and has also taught at Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

, Bard College
Bard College
Bard College, founded in 1860 as "St. Stephen's College", is a small four-year liberal arts college located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.-Location:...

, and Eugene Lang College. She is married to the short-story writer Thomas Israel Hopkins; the couple has one son and lives in Kingston, New York
Kingston, New York
Kingston is a city in and the county seat of Ulster County, New York, USA. It is north of New York City and south of Albany. It became New York's first capital in 1777, and was burned by the British Oct. 16, 1777, after the Battles of Saratoga...


A 2008 essay at Nextbook.org (now Tablet Magazine), entitled Eli Miller’s Seltzer Delivery Service, is the only essay in which Barton has written at length of her Jewish upbringing, although in one 2007 article she described herself as “a Jewess who wouldn’t leave the house without a stash of Tylenol, safety pins and mints.”