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Mixed Media

The Art of the Novel

Author Micah Nathan finds inspiration in his Buffalo roots

Micah Nathan, BA ’98

Micah Nathan, BA ’98. Photo: Jessie Contour

“I keep coming back to the same questions: Can people change? What is the nature of redemption?”
Micah Nathan

By Ann Whitcher Gentzke

The plots of Micah Nathan’s novels twist and turn like a bracing Lake Erie wind. “Gods of Aberdeen,” his best-selling first novel, is a coming-of-age story cum thriller about a 16-year-old boy raised in foster care who receives a scholarship to an elite college in Connecticut. “Losing Graceland” is a zany tale about a young man’s picaresque journey with an Elvis impersonator who just may be the King.

During a recent appearance in downtown Buffalo, Nathan (BA ’98) read from his latest novel-in-progress, “In Search of Absolutely Nothing,” about a 58-year-old New York art dealer, Tosh Philby. A survivor of the 1980s AIDS epidemic, who saw many of his friends and lovers die, Philby is burdened with survivor’s guilt and, says Nathan, “the sense that he’s squandered his good fortune.”

Now 40, Nathan says his preoccupations remain universal despite efforts to explore a different theme with each novel. “I keep coming back to the same questions: Can people change? What is the nature of friendship, redemption, loss, courage? Vague words, I know; thus my compulsion to decipher them.”

Nathan lives in Holliston, Mass., with his wife, Rachel Kane (JD ’91, BA ’86). He received an MFA in creative writing from Boston University in 2010—the same year he won the school’s Saul Bellow Prize for his fiction—and will be writer-in-residence at Kingston University in London later this year.

Though Nathan’s early life is the stuff of novels—he was born in Hollywood, Calif., then moved across the country by parents who were, he writes in his blog, “intellectuals in the tradition of Dylan, Kissinger and Nureyev”—it is facets of his upbringing in rural Boston, N.Y., about 30 miles from Buffalo, that bubble up in his writing. The suburb of Cheektowaga plays prominently in “Losing Graceland,” for instance, and the main character in that book is, like Nathan, an anthropology graduate of UB.

But Nathan’s connection to Buffalo goes beyond an occasional local allusion. “My Western New York roots run deep, and my artistic aesthetic—decay, rebirth, sorrow, hope—is the direct result of my childhood in the Boston Hills and my college years at Buff State and UB,” he says. And then adds, in his writerly way, “I adore Buffalo, for all its problems. My soul remains in that battered, beautiful city.”