Sunset Park author wins major literary award

The Brooklyn Paper
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Talk about ascendant.

A Sunset Parker whose debut novel “Preparation for the Next Life” garnered critical praise after its 2014 release, won the prestigious Poets, Editors, and Novelists/Faulkner Award in fiction on April 7.

The man of letters was at a loss for words when he found out he won.

“I don’t know if I thought in words,” said Atticus Lish. “It blew my mind. I was overwhelmed.”

The award, given since 1981, goes to one exceptional living American author each year, according to the foundation that bestows it.

Lish comes from literary stock — his father is writer and editor Gordon Lish. But the younger wordsmith eschewed his family connections when it came to publishing “Preparations for the Next Life,” and will continue to do so as he makes preparations for his next novel, opting to enjoy personal time with his aging father rather than talking shop, he said.

“We’ll spend time having lunch together,” he said.

Lish, who was born in Manhattan and moved to Brooklyn in 2006, is not the first Brooklynite to win the honor.

Native son and Brooklyn College alumnus Rafi Zabor took the prize in 1998, and 1999 awardee Michael Cunningham did a stint teaching in the college’s creative writing program.

Lish didn’t grow up in the borough, but his Sunset Park neighborhood, which has large Hispanic and Chinese immigrant populations, helped him craft a novel that New York Times reviewer Dwight Garner lauded as an “intricate comprehension of, and deep feeling for, life at the margins.”

“Living here and writing about the subject I was writing about — it was a great advantage,” Lish said. “I couldn’t help getting material all the time.”

Motorcycle gangs, Eight Avenue’s “Brooklyn Chinatown,” and local businesses informed the novel, which is largely set in Flushing, Queens. One protagonist is an Iraq veteran with a workout obsession, and Lish’s neighborhood gym lent its character to his pen.

“The scenery — the ceiling, the people in it, the machinery — all of that is from Richie’s [Gym],” he said. “I saw [someone] doing a certain exercise, and afterwards, he jumped up and pointed across the room the way an athlete does — that’s in there.”

Lish ran into the muscle-bound muse the day after he found out he won the award, but he didn’t tell the fellow gym rat he inspired a passage in an award-winning novel, instead keeping his personal and professional lives separate, Lish said.

“He doesn’t know about my other life,” Lish said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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