by Sam Roschewsk
“One of the best things I ever did was let Maryland eat that deposit, and move to Gambier,” author Daniel Torday ’00 said regarding his decision to attend Kenyon rather than University of Maryland. Torday, now the director of creative writing at Bryn Mawr College, released his first novel, Last Flight of Poxl West, on March 17 through St. Martin’s Press. The book follows the life of a teen growing up in the 1980s, and is punctuated by flashbacks to World War II, the subject of a memoir the protagonist’s uncle is writing, blurring the lines between memoir and fiction. In an NPR interview earlier this week, Torday talked about how he pulled from personal experience and family stories for this novel, such as his grandfather’s falsified documents to make his family seem “less Jewish.” He combined these realistic experiences with fictional ideas. Though this is his first novel, he wrote a novella, The Sensualist, which was published in 2012.
He had been working on it for nearly eight years prior to publication and saw it through many phases of his life, making drastic changes over the years. For example, he originally intended the novel to take place between the present day and the 1940s, and later decided to change the setting to the 1980s. The birth of his children in 2007 further complicated his writing process. “Getting a two year old to bed is much harder than writing a novel,” he said.
Torday was an English major at Kenyon. “My education at Kenyon is what gave me all the tools I needed to do what I do today,” Torday said. Like many students, he didn’t always believe he would ever make it. “I would always do my homework and get increasingly frustrated and think, How will I ever write like Melville?” he said. “I eventually figured out that my writing doesn’t need to sound like a 19th-century [author’s].”
He also minored in philosophy and took several history courses, which helped inspire his work. “I definitely had a lot of memorable professors [and courses],” he said. “One in particular was a course on the Holocaust with Professor [Donald] Rogan, [former chair of the religious studies department].” Torday said he enjoyed his classes, but admitted his favorite part of Kenyon was poetry readings offered by Rogan outside of class that both students and teachers attended. “A lot of what I learned at Kenyon happened outside the classroom and that’s what I loved about it,” Torday said.
Torday’s eight-year-long efforts have come to fruition, and The Last Flight of Poxl West and his novella The Sensualist are available now in the Kenyon Bookstore.