Big Deal

Alumna's breakout novel is causing a stir

Lucky Break: DiSclafani plans to continue to teach at Washington University despite a seven-figure book advance.

Courtesy Anton DiSclafani

In the publishing world, it’s often hard for first-time authors to get big houses to even look at their work. Case in point: Theodor Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, was rejected by twenty-seven publishers for his first book, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

So it is particularly remarkable that Anton DiSclafani 03C has jumped this hurdle. Early this year, a draft of her first novel, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, was sent out to publishers, seven of which ended up vying for it at auction. Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin, eventually bought the book for a reported seven-figure deal.

“I was incredibly flattered and excited by the publishers’ interest. My experience with Riverhead has been working with my editor, Sarah McGrath, who is amazingly smart and insightful,” DiSclafani says.

The book follows the story of Thea Atwell, a young girl from Florida growing up during the lean years of the Great Depression. After getting into trouble at home, she is sent to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, an equestrian school in the mountains of North Carolina.

The fictional Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is based on a real camp located near a cabin owned by DiSclafani’s family. An obsessive horse rider herself as a girl, DiSclafani was enchanted by the camp during trips to the cabin. “I was taken by the idea of the camp, surrounded as it was by mountains and forest. There’s an austere beauty about that area; I think it’s the most beautiful place in the world,” she says.

At Emory, DiSclafani threw herself into campus activities. She joined the student programming council, the STIPE Society of Creative Scholars, and every class offered by Creative Writing Program Director Jim Grimsley, who had a major influence on her writing. “He was incredibly patient—he taught me to write my way through things, which I still do,” she says.

Once when she was having a difficult time writing in third person, she went to Grimsley for advice. He told her to write in third person until she understood it. “Jim taught me that the only way to better writing is to write and write and write,” DiSclafani says.

Taking his advice, she began writing The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls when she was twenty-five; it took her five years to complete. With final revisions, the novel is due out next year.

Even with the impressive advance, DiSclafani plans to continue working as a lecturer at Washington University in St. Louis. “[Teaching] gives me a greater appreciation for my Emory professors,” she says.

As for a second novel, DiSclafani says she has something in the works, but it is only in “embryonic form.”

DiSclafani will visit Emory in January as part of the Creative Writing Reading Series.

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