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2024 Spring-Summer Novels from RJF Women Writers Sarah Braunstein, Helen Phillips & Nicolette Polek


(l-r): Sarah Braunstein (photo: Lauryn Hottinger), Helen Phillips (photo: Andy Vernon-Jones), Nicolette Polek (photo: Jordan Castro)

Sarah Braunstein (RJFWA ’07), Bad Animals (W.W. Norton, March 2024)

“A sexy, propulsive novel that confronts the limits of empathy and the perils of appropriation through the eyes of a disgraced small-town librarian. Sarah Braunstein constructs a shrewd, page-turning caper that explores one woman’s search for agency and ultimate reckoning with the kind of animal she is.”


Sarah Braunstein is also the author of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children (W.W. Norton), the winner of the 2012 Maine Literary Award for Fiction and finalist for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction. Her short stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Playboy, The Harvard Review, The Cincinnati Review, AGNIPloughshares, The Sun, and in other publications. A “5 Under 35” Award winner from the National Book Foundation, she holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an MSW from Smith College School for Social Work. She is associate professor of English and creative writing at Colby College.


Helen Phillips (RJFWA ’09), Hum (Simon & Schuster, forthcoming August 6, 2024)

“In a city addled by climate change and populated by intelligent robots called “hums,” May loses her job to artificial intelligence. In a desperate bid to resolve her family’s debt and secure their future for another few months, she becomes a guinea pig in an experiment that alters her face so it cannot be recognized by surveillance. Written in taut, urgent prose, Hum is a work of speculative fiction that unflinchingly explores marriage, motherhood, and selfhood in a world compromised by global warming and dizzying technological advancement, a world of both dystopian and utopian possibilities.”


Helen Phillips is the author of six books, including the novel The Need (Simon & Schuster), which was long-listed for the 2019 National Book Award. She has received the Italo Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction, the Iowa Review Nonfiction Award, and the DIAGRAM Innovative Fiction Award. A 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, she is a professor at Brooklyn College.



Nicolette Polek (RJFWA ’19), Bitter Water Opera: A Novel (Graywolf Press, April 2024)

“In 1967, the dancer Marta Becket and her husband were traveling through Death Valley Junction when they came across an abandoned theater. Marta decided it was hers. She painted her ideal audience on its walls and danced her own dances until her death five decades later. In the present day, Gia has ended a relationship and taken a leave from her job in film studies at a university. She is sleeping fifteen hours a night and ignoring calls from her mother. In a library archive, she comes across a photo of Marta Becket and decides to write her a letter. Soon Marta magically appears in her home. Through precise, vivid vignettes, Bitter Water Opera follows Gia as she resists the urge to escape into herself and struggles to form a lasting connection to the world. In this brief, astonishing novel, Nicolette Polek describes an individual awakening to faith while exploring our deepest existential questions. How do we look beyond ourselves? Where do words go? What is art for?”


Nicolette Polek is also the author of Imaginary Museums (Soft Skull Press, 2020). Her work has appeared in Harper’s, The Atlantic, Paris Review DailyBOMB, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Maryland, and a masters from Yale Divinity School. She is from Northeast Ohio.


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