With Dear Committee Members, a darkly hilarious academic novel presented entirely as a collection of letters of recommendation crafted by a cynical and disillusioned creative writing professor, Ms. Schumacher became the first woman to win the Thurber Prize for American Humor. Previous recipients include Jon Stewart, David Sedaris, and Calvin Trillin. The life of the book’s anti-hero, Jason Fitger, is glimpsed through the seemingly endless number of recommendation letters he is asked to write for colleagues, students, and near-strangers at a not very distinguished liberal arts college in the Midwest. “The conceit of a novel told in letters of reference is inspired, and it is killingly funny because it’s all so killingly true,” enthused Jay Parini, author of The Last Station and The Passages of H.M.
Fitger’s once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. In short, his life is a tale of woe, told through a series of hilarious letters that Fitger is endlessly called upon to write, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies. Critic Maureen Corrigan, reviewing for NPR, enthused, “Like the best works of farce, academic or otherwise, Dear Committee Members deftly mixes comedy with social criticism and righteous outrage. By the end you may well find yourself laughing so hard it hurts.”
Dear Committee Members was named A Best Book of the Year by NPR and the Boston Globe and won numerous press raves: “A smart-as-hell, funny-as-heck novel” (Newsweek); “Bitterly hilarious” (The Wall Street Journal); a “richly sardonic epistolary volume” (San Francisco Chronicle); “It’s a sincere exploration of the depths and breadths of human selfishness, and the contemporary American academy is simply the backdrop” (Slate).
The author, herself a creative writing faculty member at the University of Minnesota, will read from her novel on the Academy’s stage in a free literary event sponsored in part by the Northampton Arts Council. Reservations are not required and seating will be on a first come, first seated basis beginning at 1:30 p.m. on October 16th. There will be a brief Q&A and book signing following the reading.