By Andrew Bauld | Photos by Jean Lachat
Augustus Rose had a very good year. His debut novel, The Readymade Thief, came out last August to rave reviews. And after an extensive search for a permanent fiction writer, the University of Chicago hired Rose as a full-time member of the Program in Creative Writing.
Rose joins current UChicago lecturers and professors of practice Will Boast, Rachel DeWoskin, Vu Tran, along with another new appointee, Ling Ma. The Program in Creative Writing has steadily expanded these last few years, including the introduction of an undergraduate major in Creative Writing, offering all UChicago students, majors and non-majors a chance to work with nationally known writers.
“As we launched the major, we’re fielding a team of writers who come at the art from a range of perspectives and backgrounds that are going to equip our students to produce art of the new century,” said Srikanth Reddy, interim chair for Creative Writing.
While students may be clamoring to work with published authors, Rose owes much to his time in the classroom, saying it was critical to getting his own novel past the early stages.
“I was teaching the nuts and bolts, the very basic architecture of the craft of fiction writing,” he said. “I focused a lot on plot and narrative, maybe because it was something I was struggling with myself, and doing that with my students opened up some things for me that I wasn’t considering.”
From screen to bookshelf
Rose said he has wanted to be a novelist since his early 20s, although writing wasn’t his first medium. He received a bachelor degree in film from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and after graduating, he moved to Prague to start a career in filmmaking. The only problem was he didn’t have the means to start a film. That’s when he turned to writing.
“I needed a creative outlet, so I took a screenplay I wrote in college and started writing it out as a novel,” Rose said. “I found the writing process fit my personality much more than filmmaking. Something clicked, and that’s when I knew. I was 21.”
Rose discovered he enjoyed the isolated nature of being a novelist, creating worlds of his own design. He returned to school and received his master’s in creative writing from the University of California, Davis.
Rose made several false starts with different versions of The Readymade Thief. He took a break, returning to writing screenplays, including one, Far From Cool, which became a finalist in the 2015 Academy Nicholl Fellowships.
The novel finally began to take shape in 2012, with the eponymous thief, 17-year-old Lee Cuddy, who finds herself entangled with a secret society set against the backdrop of the underground world of Philadelphia.
“I brought these different areas together in a way that served the story, and I figured out how to really work with plot that I could indulge my interests and obsessions, and at the same time have the story move forward,” Rose said.
Rose has been working on the novel for years. The result is far-ranging, incorporating everything from urban exploration to French artist Marcel Duchamp.
“I’ve been anticipating this for so long. Writing books and getting close calls but failing to see them getting published, I’m just so happy and grateful that it’s gotten so far,” he said. “Anything that happens beyond it getting published is just gravy.”
A constant learning process
Rose first joined UChicago in 2009 as a part-time lecturer. Since then, he’s become an integral member of the University’s literary community, and Reddy said he’s thrilled to have Rose join the burgeoning department.
“Gus has been a really valued and beloved instructor as a part-time lecturer for some time here now, and he really stood out in his being a presence in the undergraduate literary culture on campus,” Reddy said.
Along with his new teaching role, Rose headed out for a book tour over the fall, which included a stop in Chicago in October along with with his fiction colleague Rachel DeWoskin at the Seminary Co-op. Far from resting on the success of his first book, Rose is already working on his next project, although he’s mum on its details for now.
“I have a rule not to discuss a project until I have a first draft, but it’s definitely been started, and I have a clear idea what it is,” Rose said. “Writing fiction is a constant learning process.”
Originally published on March 12, 2018.