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Jon Michael Varese

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Jon Michael Varese (born December 17, 1971) is an American novelist and literary historian.

Jon Michael Varese
Varese at Book Passage in San Francisco, July 25, 2018
Varese at Book Passage in San Francisco, July 25, 2018
BornDecember 17, 1971
Miami, Florida
EducationB.A., Swarthmore College; M.A., Ph.D., University of California Santa Cruz
GenreHistorical Fiction, Gothic Fiction, Magical Realism
Notable worksThe Spirit Photographer (2018)

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Early Life and Education[edit | edit source]

Varese was born in Miami, Florida. He was first introduced to literature and the work of Charles Dickens at the age of 14 through the mother of a friend.[1] He later graduated from Swarthmore College with a B.A. in English Literature, and earned his Masters and Ph.D. in Literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz. His doctoral thesis, “The Value of Storytelling,” examined the development of 19th-century serial novels in Great Britain, with a focus on the early novels of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and George Eliot.[2]

Career[edit | edit source]

Fiction[edit | edit source]

Varese's debut novel, The Spirit Photographer (Overlook Press, 2018), is loosely based on the real life 19th-century American spirit photographer, William Mumler. Varese took parts of Mumler’s biography and adapted them to create a story about the ghost of an African-American woman who one day appears in one of the photographs. The novel takes place during the Reconstruction era in U.S. History, and deals heavily with issues of northern and southern racism in post-Civil War America. One of Varese’s aims in writing the story was to "bring out through the ghost story how the legacy of slavery is still with us, very, very much."[3] He has cited the work of civil rights activists Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander as important influences on the novel.[4]

The Spirit Photographer — Critical Reception[edit | edit source]

Booklist called The Spirit Photographer "an addicting tale,"[5] and Chronogram Magazine wrote that it was an ambitious, sprawling debut, "teeming with spirits, secrets, and trauma."[6] The Times Literary Supplement stated that there was not "a dud word in this extraordinary debut novel," and compared Varese's writing to that of Wilkie Collins and Joseph Conrad.[7]

The novel also received attention from academicians. American Literature scholar Susan Gillman of the University of California, Santa Cruz wrote that the novel unexpectedly brought "race and Southern Gothic to the world of Boston after the Civil War," and that "ghosts of a different kind" haunted national memory in this "groundbreaking new historical novel."[8] American Civil War historian Bruce Levine called the novel "stunning," writing that the The Spirit Photographer combined "the thrills of mystery and fantasy with the feel of historical authenticity."[9]

Kirkus Reviews, however, was not entirely full of praise, calling the novel "overlong and occasionally preposterous."[10]

Nonfiction and Literary Criticism[edit | edit source]

Varese’s nonfiction and literary criticism have focused on the work of Charles Dickens, particularly Dickens’s early novels and the business behind their development. Varese’s edition of Great Expectations was published under the Signature imprint of Barnes and Noble publishers in 2012. Similarly, Varese has published numerous public humanities articles that recast topics in Victorian literature for general audiences, including a series of pieces that he wrote for The Guardian from 2009-2010.[11]

In 2018, Varese was a contributor to the Oxford Handbook of Charles Dickens. His chapter on Nicholas Nickleby examined the role of contracts and English contract law in relation to Dickens’s fiction during a time when concepts like copyright, intellectual property, and royalty payments were all still being formulated and debated in both professional and legal spheres.[12]

Teaching and Outreach Work[edit | edit source]

Varese served as the Director of Digital Initiatives for The Dickens Project from 2010-2016, but earlier directed the development of the Our Mutual Friend Scholarly Pages (1998), a collaborative digital archive co-sponsored by The Dickens Project and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The collaboration was amongst the first of a handful of digital archiving projects to appear on the Internet,[13] and was later overhauled for the bi-centenary of Dickens’s birth in 2012.[14]

In 2016, Varese was named Director of Public Outreach for The Dickens Project, a role he still occupies. In his capacity as director he is responsible for liaison work between The Dickens Project and the University of Southern California’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), USC’s primary outreach program to Title 1 schools in South Central Los Angeles. The partnership between The Dickens Project and USC NAI provides books, curricula advisement, mentorship, and funding for students who are on a dedicated college-bound path as a result of the program.[15]

External Links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Q&A: Author Jon Michael Varese to sign his new book Saturday at Star Line Books". timesfreepress.com. 2018-05-15. Retrieved 2018-08-31.
  2. "Jon Michael Varese". www.goodreads.com. Retrieved 2018-08-31.
  3. Jon Varese (2018-04-21), XRAY.FM in the Morning - Portland Radio, retrieved 2018-08-31
  4. Larson, Susan. "The Reading Life With Jon Michael Varese And Renee Hodges". Retrieved 2018-08-31.
  5. Spirit Photographer, by Jon Michael Varese | Booklist Online. www.booklistonline.com. Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  6. Quimby, Carolyn. "The Spirit Photographer by Jon Michael Varese | Book Review". Chronogram Magazine. Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  7. The Spirit Photographer, by Jon Michael Varese. Fiction. The Times Literary Supplement, September 14, 2018, p. 31.
  8. The Spirit Photographer, book jacket blurb.
  9. The Spirit Photographer, book jacket blurb.
  10. THE SPIRIT PHOTOGRAPHER by Jon Michael Varese | Kirkus Reviews.
  11. "Jon Michael Varese". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-08-31.
  12. The Oxford Handbook of Charles Dickens. Oxford Handbooks. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. 2018-11-20. ISBN 9780198743415.
  13. "About". omf.ucsc.edu. Retrieved 2018-08-31.
  14. Schuessler, Jennifer. "And Now a Word From Charles Dickens's Sponsor..." ArtsBeat. Retrieved 2018-08-31.
  15. "A New Readership for Dickens". dickens.ucsc.edu. Retrieved 2018-08-31.

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