Sat, Apr 09|
Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry and James Tate Hill In Conversation
I'll be in conversation with Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry about her debut novel, The Orchard, the last years of the Soviet Union, perestroika, and literature as a means for survival.
Time & Location
Apr 09, 2022, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM EDT
Scuppernong Books, 304 S Elm St, Greensboro, NC 27401, USA
About the Event
Coming of age in the USSR in the 1980s, best friends Anya and Milka try to envision a free and joyful future for themselves. They spend their summers at Anya’s dacha just outside of Moscow, lazing in the apple orchard, listening to Queen songs, and fantasizing about trips abroad and the lives of American teenagers. Meanwhile, Anya’s parents talk about World War II, the Blockade, and the hardships they have endured. By the time Anya and Milka are fifteen, the Soviet Empire is on the verge of collapse. They pair up with classmates Trifonov and Lopatin, and the four friends share secrets and desires, argue about history and politics, and discuss forbidden books. But the world is changing, and the fleeting time they have together is cut short by a sudden tragedy. Years later, Anya returns to Russia from America, where she has chosen a different kind of life, far from her family and childhood friends. When she meets Lopatin again, he is a smug businessman who wants to buy her parents’ dacha and cut down the apple orchard. Haunted by the ghosts of her youth, Anya comes to the stark realization that memory does not fade or disappear; rather, it moves us across time, connecting our past to our future, joys to sorrows. Inspired by Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry’s The Orchard powerfully captures the lives of four Soviet teenagers who are about to lose their country and one another, and who struggle to survive, to save their friendship, to recover all that has been lost.
“Charming and tragic, hopeful and disillusioned, profoundly intimate and sensitive to history, The Orchard evokes Soviet perestroika in all its contradictions. With exquisite lyricism, Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry recalls what it meant to grow up in Moscow in the 1980s, when both she and her nation were on the cusp of unknowable futures.” —Ken Kalfus, author of 2 A.M. in Little America “A tragic and nostalgic love letter to a much-tried generation . . . This is a winner.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry is a Russian-Armenian émigré who moved to the United States in 1995 after having witnessed perestroika and the fall of the Iron Curtain. Writing in English, her second language, she has published fifty stories and received nine Pushcart nominations. Her work has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, Electric Literature, Indiana Review, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, Nimrod, and elsewhere. Gorcheva-Newberry is the winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction; the Tennessee Williams scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference; and the Prairie Schooner Raz/Shumaker Book Prize in Fiction for her collection of stories, What Isn’t Remembered, which was longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award. She lives with her family, splitting her time between New York, Virginia, and Russia.
At age sixteen, James Tate Hill was diagnosed with Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, a condition that left him legally blind. When high-school friends stopped calling and a disability counselor advised him to aim for C’s in his classes, he tried to escape the stigma by pretending he could still see.
In this unfailingly candid yet humorous memoir, Hill discloses the tricks he employed to pass for sighted, from displaying shelves of paperbacks he read on tape to arriving early on first dates so women would have to find him. He risked his life every time he crossed a street, doing his best to listen for approaching cars. A good memory and pop culture obsessions like Tom Cruise, Prince, and all things 1980s allowed him to steer conversations toward common experiences.
For fifteen years, Hill hid his blindness from friends, colleagues, and lovers, even convincing himself that if he stared long enough, his blurry peripheral vision would bring the world into focus. At thirty, faced with a stalled writing career, a crumbling marriage, and a growing fear of leaving his apartment, he began to wonder if there was a better way.
"It’s been a long time since I met such a thoroughly normal guy in a memoir…I’d buy him a beer anytime."
― Dwight Garner, New York Times "The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, The Liars' Club by Mary Karr, Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou are among the memoirs that leave you breathless; they're books you keep and don't pawn off on your neighbor's yard sale. Now comes another keeper: Blind Man's Bluff by James Tate Hill."
― Kitty Kelley, Washington Independent Review of Books
James Tate Hill is an editor for Monkeybicycle and contributing editor at Literary Hub, where he writes a monthly audiobooks column. The Best American Essays has chosen two of his works as "Notable," and he won the Nilsen Literary Prize for a First Novel for Academy Gothic. Born in West Virginia, he lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.