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John Burnham Schwartz

Bestselling author of The Red Daughter and Reservation Road

  • About John Burnham Schwartz

    John Burnham Schwartz is a novelist and screenwriter whose complicated, flawed, and compelling characters have captivated countless readers. A master of historical and literary fiction, his acclaimed novels transport audiences through mesmerizingly detailed stories, from a newcomer’s adventures in Tokyo in Bicycle Days to a tragic Ivy League romance in Claire Marvel. A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Reservation Road was adapted into a 2007 major motion picture written by Schwartz and starring Joaquin Pheonix, Mark Ruffalo, and Jennifer Connelly.

    Schwartz’s national bestseller, The Commoner, was inspired by the lives of the current empress and crown princess of Japan.  It is a stunning novel about a brutally rarified and controlled existence and the complex relationship between two isolated women. In his novel, The Red Daughter, Schwartz returns to historical fiction—with a personal twist. In this grand saga based on the true story of Svetlana Alliluyeva, Joseph Stalin’s daughter runs from her father’s brutal legacy and defects to the United States. By her side is Peter Horvath, a lawyer sent by the CIA to escort Svetlana to America. Schwartz’s father, high-profile lawyer Alan U. Schwartz, did, in fact, travel under CIA cover in 1967 to Europe to escort Svetlana Alliluyeva to the United States. She visited the Schwartz family numerous times, when the author was young.  In his gripping talks, Schwartz details how he drew upon private papers and years of extensive research to create an unforgettable novel.

    Schwartz’s books have been translated into twenty languages, and his work has appeared in the New Yorker, The New York Times, Boston Globe, Vogue, the New York Times Book Review and the Wall Street Journal Magazine. He was a co-screenwriter of the 2017 HBO film The Wizard of Lies, starring Robert DeNiro as Bernie Madoff and Michelle Pfeiffer as Ruth Madoff. Schwartz is the literary director of the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference and has taught at Harvard University, the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Sarah Lawrence College.

  • Speaking Topics

    The Red Daughter

    In this talk, John Burnham Schwartz takes readers behind the scenes of his latest historical novel, from his personal connection to the story to riveting details and photographs about the real Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin’s daughter. Perfect for audiences interested in historical fiction or Cold War history, he covers his approach to writing fiction based on true events.

    An Evening with John Burnham Schwartz: An Insider's Look at the World of Writers

    John Burnham Schwartz has had the privilege of being close to some of the most extraordinary writers, artists, and actors of our time since his birth: his stepfather is W.S. Merwin, and his godfathers were David Halberstam and Peter Shaffer. In this talk, he delves into a treasure trove of personal stories about titanic names in art and culture, including Truman Capote, Arthur Miller, William Styron, E.L. Doctorow, Joan Didion, Dustin Hoffman, Mel Brooks, and many more.

    The Commoner

    In this talk, John Burnham Schwartz shares how he first became interested in the real story of the Empress and Crown Princess of Japan, why he created his own version of it, and his approach to writing fiction based on history. Audiences relish learning the details behind the stories of these compelling characters.

    Historical Fiction, Research, and the Writing Process

    Acclaimed author John Burnham Schwartz has taught MFA students at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Sarah Lawrence and has led literature seminars all over the country. In this talk aimed at aspiring writers, he shares the research and writing process behind his acclaimed novels and screenplays.

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  • Praise for John Burnham Schwartz

    Praise for The Red Daughter

    Like an old world alchemist, John Burnham Schwartz takes for his base elements a character who in real life was as famous as she was misunderstood, and he spins gold. We recognize something of ourselves in Svetlana’s complicated and conflicted soul, and through her eyes we have a deeply insightful glimpse of an America that eludes us, but must be apparent to an outsider. The Red Daughter is brilliant, thoughtful and beautifully imagined – a masterpiece by a writer at his best.

     Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone and My Own Country

    Praise for Northwest Corner

    Nuanced and moving . . . [a] story about the indestructible bonds of family.

    The New York Times

    Stark and deeply affecting . . . Readers will grow to care deeply about whether and how [the characters’] lives can be redeemed.

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

    Praise for The Commoner

    Schwartz pulls off a grand feat in giving readers a moving dramatization of a cloistered world.

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

    A delicate, elegiac tale, intensely moving and utterly convincing.

    The New York Times Book Review

    Praise for Claire Marvel

    In this age of glorious literary excess, of high conceptualizing and big novelizing, it takes some courage to write a simple love story. . . . John Burnham Schwartz takes the risk in his third novel, writing spare, elegant prose.

    The New York Times Book Review

    Rich, passionate prose that echoes the intense feeling between young lovers.

    Chicago Tribune

    Praise for Reservation Road

    Both a beautiful, wrenching story of redemption, and a novel of exquisite suspense.

    Anne Lamott

    A poignant thriller…quietly breathtaking…a suspenseful literary novel.

    Betsey Osborne, Vanity Fair

    A powerful and affecting novel…haunting…highly suspenseful…compelling to read.

    Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

    Praise for Bicycle Days

    Has freshness and energy…announces the debut of a bright new voice in fiction.

    The New York Times

    Graceful … reminiscent of Fitzgerald…. [It] leaves us holding our breath for more.

    San Francisco Chronicle
  • Books by John Burnham Schwartz

  • Media About John Burnham Schwartz

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