The Acclaimed Fiction of Alice Elliott Dark
The associate professor of English in Rutgers–Newark’s M.F.A. in creative writing program is the author of Fellowship Point.
Even though it has been 21 years since I was a student in Alice Elliott Dark’s graduate fiction writing workshop at Rutgers University–Newark, I vividly remember her rhapsodizing about the art of fiction, taking students wherever her literary imagination dreamed of going.
“That happens a lot,” she says. “I do get a little—rhapsodic is a good word for it.” Dark, an associate professor of English in Rutgers–Newark’s M.F.A. in creative writing program, produced a critically acclaimed novel last summer, Fellowship Point (Marysue Rucci Books/Scribner, 2022), which became a national bestseller.
It also has been 21 years since Dark—whose 1993 short story “In the Gloaming” was selected by John Updike as one of the best short stories of the century—published her first novel, Think of England (Simon and Schuster, 2002). Fellowship Point, begun in 2011 after years of trying to develop other novels, is her follow-up. In the long process of creating it, she benefited from the Rutgers courses she taught. “Teaching has been really invaluable,” she says. “When I meet with my writer friends, we don’t always talk about craft; we talk more about the business. But in class, all people want to do is talk about craft. My spending a lot of time figuring out how to explain and teach things and how fiction works was so useful for me. I don’t know if I could have learned as much if I hadn’t taught.”
Fellowship Point has received critical praise and achieved commercial success. “I’ve gotten letters from so many different kinds of people about this book,” says Dark, recipient of two prestigious MacDowell Fellowships and other awards.
Moving back and forth over five decades and shifting between Philadelphia and Maine, the novel traces the lives of two women in their 80s, a writer and a housewife who have been lifelong friends, and a book editor, a woman in her 20s. “My concept was a 19th-century novel, but one in which women own the land instead of men.”
The novel explores women’s roles, land conservation, aging, writers’ lives, publishing, and more. “It is presented as the story of a lifelong friendship between two women,” Dark says. “But that’s just one thing. There are many other themes as well.”
The surprising and multilayered plot stems from the years Dark spent creating and then having to cut enormous passages from her fictional world, one that connects deeply with readers. “There are a lot of places,” she says, “where what is on the page is the tip of the iceberg.”