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Mary Morris

The Jazz Palace

Nan A. Talese/Doubleday

2016 Fiction

The Jazz Palace
Mary Morris was born in Chicago in 1947, and although she left to study at Tufts University and settled in the east, her hometown tie remained. Now a professor of creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, Morris likes the fact that there is more magnetism around the shores of Lake Michigan than the North Pole. She has an affinity for Midwestern writers such as Mark Twain and Willa Cather, who set their stories in mid-America even while writing from afar.

A veteran crafter of both fiction and nonfiction, Morris spent almost 20 years drafting and revising The Jazz Palace. She studied jazz piano, made many trips to Chicago and persevered, musing that the novel wouldn’t give up on her. Meanwhile, her other books and stories were translated into Japanese, Italian, Spanish, German and Dutch.

A celebrated travel writer, Morris is deeply interested in the tensions of home and away, which can be seen in the immigrant and Great Migration characters populating The Jazz Palace, both fictional and actual. As she travels, Morris paints, writes and collages. She has won grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rome Prize for Literature and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.

The Jazz Palace is Morris’ 15th book. It sings of Prohibition-era Chicago, teaming with clubs and gangsters, experimental music, and new arrivals from the Southern U.S. and Eastern Europe. The story centers on three characters: the black trumpeter Napoleon Hill, the Jewish pianist Benny Lehrman (“a boy with a propensity for disaster and a musical ear”) and Pearl Chimbrova, who gamely switches her family’s candy store into a saloon. The story revels in a bittersweet time when music got faster, skirts got shorter and the public appetite for pleasure surged.

“What I always loved about Chicago and I still love about Chicago (is that) on the one hand, it’s very cosmopolitan, and on the other hand, it’s still at the edge of the West,” Morris told the Chicago Tribune. “It still has that gritty, rough feeling.”

She lives with her family in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Blog Posts about Mary Morris

Mary Morris Is Back With Latest Novel, "Gateway to the Moon"

With Gateway to the Moon, writer Mary Morris casts a new spell drawing water from some of her favorite wells. Her new novel is publishing today. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner for The Jazz Palace returns to Jewish history, this time spinning a family story across centuries. She puts it in motion in 1492, the year Spain expelled its Muslim and Jewish citizens and Christopher Columbus journeyed to the New World. In Gateway to the Moon, Morris places on that voyage an interpreter she calls Luis de Torres, a Jew who has disguised... Read More →

VIDEO: Mary Morris On Winning 2016 Anisfield-Wolf Award For Fiction

Mary Morris spent close to two decades crafting her jazz-soaked Chicago novel, The Jazz Palace, winner of this year's Anisfield-Wolf award for fiction. "It is almost impossible for me to imagine that a book I began in 1997 is being recognized in that way, almost 20 years later," she told the Playhouse Square crowd at this year's ceremony. "Just for a cultural reference, Clinton was president and there were no cell phones." As is our tradition, we sat down with each of our winners during their Cleveland itinerary for a quick interview on what... Read More →

Meet Our 2016 Winners This Fall In Northeast Ohio

Following in our tradition, each of our winners will speak at the awards ceremony, and each will talk and read separately in a second, more intimate setting in Northeast Ohio. Mark your calendars and make plans to join us in September for a string of these illuminating events, designed to bring readers and winners into each other’s orbits.Orlando Patterson, Lifetime Achievement “What Have We learned About Culture, Disadvantage and Black Youth?" Baker-Nord Center Wednesday, September 144:30-6 p.m.Mary Morris, The Jazz Palace South... Read More →

#WritersOnTrump Push Back On Presumptive Republican Presidential Nominee

Five winners of the Anisfield-Wolf Book award in fiction are standing up to publicly, “as a matter of conscience, oppose, unequivocally, the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for the Presidency of the United States.”They join Anisfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove and more than 400 writers who list eight reasons to decry Trump’s candidacy, published as an open letter on LitHub.The novelists include this year’s winner Mary Morris (The Jazz Palace), as well as Junot Diaz (The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman... Read More →
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