Jess Row has published many well-received works of fiction in the past. However, this year he began analyzing the work of others for one of the most respected newspapers in the nation, The New York Times.
Row, assistant professor of English, has received wide critical acclaim for his short stories. He recently contributed a review of Edwidge Danticat’s “Brother, I’m Dying,” to The New York Times Sunday Book Review.
Although this is not the first time that Row has written a review for The New York Times, Danticat’s story of her remarkable uncle is personally significant to the professor.
“I’ve admired Danticat’s writing for a long time and I was aware of the story of her uncle’s death,” Row said. In her book, Edwidge Danticat recounts a history of adversity and struggle. She writes of her uncle, Joseph Danticat, who was faced with gang violence, physical ailments and discrimination.
The hardships of the writer became news in 2004 when her uncle died under police detainment in a Florida hospital. Row believes that the tales of Haitian-Americans are “an element of contemporary American culture and a very visible and important one.”
As a writer of critically praised fiction, Row possesses an uncommon perspective on the process of reviewing a book.
“Writing fiction is much slower and painstaking, and takes nothing for granted,” he explained. “There is really no comparison (between journalism and fiction) at all. A review takes a week or so to write and has certain obligatory elements. It’s partly criticism and partly reporting.”
“Having my own book reviewed certainly made me sensitive to the reviewer’s responsibility to give the book the benefit of the doubt,” Row admitted. “It made me very reluctant to start reviewing books myself.”
In Row’s opinion, the biggest mistake a reviewer can make is to approach material with a closed mind and neglect the essence of the work.
“I think the worst thing a reviewer can do is respond to a book in a cynical, jaded way with a kind of ‘been there, done that’ and a yawn,” Row said. “That kind of review I will never, ever write.”
Row’s short stories have been published in his book, “The Train to Lo Wu,” as well as in the literary journals Ploughshares, Granta, American Short Fiction, The Atlantic, Harvard Review and many others.
He writes nonfiction and criticism for the online magazine Slate, and his first review for The New York Times appeared when the newspaper contacted him last spring.
On writing reviews, Row said, “It’s a way to see what other writers are doing, and articulate a position about contemporary literature.”
Currently, Row is working on a novel dealing with the Vietnam War, as well as a new collection of short stories. As for further contributions to The New York Times, Row is open to the possibility. “If (The New York Times) will have me, certainly,” he said.
To find more information about Jess Row and his writings, visit his Web site jessrow.com or his office on campus in Bliss Hall.