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Tess Gunty

National Book Award-winning author of The Rabbit Hutch

Tess Gunty accepts the 2022 National Book Award for Fiction for The Rabbit Hutch
  • About Tess Gunty

    Tess Gunty has been writing since she was a child. Realizing the relative lack of fiction set in the Rust Belt, she was inspired to challenge misconceptions of the Midwest by portraying the heartland she knows—an expansive place of beauty, complexity, and underappreciated diversity, home to many different ideologies. It is also a place where many American ailments are visible. While The Rabbit Hutch’s fictional town of Vacca Vale, Indiana was in many ways inspired by her hometown of South Bend, the devastating collapse of Vacca Vale’s local automobile industry has not been mitigated by a prestigious university system, and the town of Gunty’s debut novel is indisputably in decline. In this landscape of postindustrial abandonment and structural neglect, Gunty’s chorus of characters – Blandine, Joan, and the other tenants of a dilapidated affordable housing complex – chase transcendence and look for ways to eke out a life in a dying city.

    A thought-provoking and character-driven debut, The Rabbit Hutch has been shortlisted for the 2023 Mark Twain Award, was a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle John Leonard Prize for best debut work of 2022, and won the inaugural Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize, the 2022 National Book Award for Fiction, and the Barnes and Noble Discover Prize. The Rabbit Hutch was also named a best book of the year by The New York Times, NPR, People, The New Yorker, and TIME, among other publications, and has been optioned for film rights by Fremantle.

    An eloquent speaker, Tess Gunty discusses her journey as a writer, from her first childhood attempts at fiction to writing and publishing an award-winning novel. In her talks, she reflects on the relationship between literature and technology, the personal and political inspiration for her work, and her approach to the craft of novel-writing—from her in-depth research to the development of her complex characters.

    Tess Gunty graduated from the University of Notre Dame and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU, where she was a Lillian Vernon Fellow. Her work has appeared in many publications, such as The Iowa ReviewGrantaLitHub, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Gunty grew up in South Bend, Indiana, and now lives in Los Angeles. Her next novel, Honeydew, will be released in Fall 2025.

  • Speaking Topics

    A Conversation with Tess Gunty, Author of The Rabbit Hutch

    In a captivating and adaptable onstage conversation, Tess Gunty discusses her spellbinding debut novel—the ideas within it, the inspiration behind it, and the experience of publishing it.

    Writing the Heartland

    Tess Gunty was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana—a postindustrial city that appeared on Newsweek’s list of “Top Ten Dying American Cities” when she was in high school. A lifelong reader of fiction, Gunty seldom came upon a novel set in a town like hers. The heartland is home to millions of people, but as she grew up, she gradually became aware that it is vastly underrepresented in the American imagination. In this engaging talk, she will discuss why she finds it essential to reclaim neglected regions of America, and what is gained when artists insist that the lives unfolding there are worthy of attention.

    Literature in the age of AI

    In this lecture based on her research for a developing book, Tess Gunty will examine the relationship between AI and literature, including the impact of machine-learning language models (like Open AI’s ChatGPT, code-davinci-002, and Google’s LaMDA) on the human creation of poetry and prose. What effects will AI have on literature? Is there anything that human writers can create that an artificial general intelligence could not? What can literature teach us about the nature of human consciousness and its potential replicability in non-animate machines? What can AI language models teach us about our own language processing? What can we learn from similar relationships between technology and art throughout history, like photography’s influence on the Impressionists? Inspired by her ongoing research in neuroscience, robotics, philosophy, psychology, and literature, Gunty will discuss what technology can teach us about the nature of human creativity and consciousness.

    The Worm Family and Other Important Failures

    The Rabbit Hutch may be the first work by Tess Gunty to appear in bookstores, but it was preceded by thousands of pages of creative writing that she never published. Gunty has been consistently creating fiction since before she knew how to spell, and this talk will explore her evolution as a writer, taking its title from her earliest story: “The Worm Family.” She will discuss her influences; formative writing experiences; the role that early encouragement—from her parents, teachers, contests, and awards—played in her artistic development; significant projects she attempted and ultimately shelved; lessons she learned from working with some of her literary heroes at New York University; and the rocky road to publishing. This talk will emphasize the subterranean life of her novel, and the necessary failures that form the foundation for better work.

  • Video

  • Praise for Tess Gunty

    Praise for The Rabbit Hutch

    Mesmerizing . . . A novel of impressive scope and specificity . . . One of the pleasures of the narrative is the way it luxuriates in language, all the rhythms and repetitions and seashell whorls of meaning to be extracted from the dull casings of everyday life. . . . [Gunty] also has a way of pressing her thumb on the frailty and absurdity of being a person in the world; all the soft, secret needs and strange intimacies. The book’s best sentences — and there are heaps to choose from — ping with that recognition, even in the ordinary details.

    Leah Greenblatt, The New York Times Book Review

    The most promising first novel I’ve read this year . . . A feeling of genuine crisis . . . propels the narrative through its many twists to the catharsis of its bizarre ending.

    Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

    Ambitious . . . Despite offering a dissection of contemporary urban blight, the novel doesn’t let social concerns crowd out the individuality of its characters, and Blandine’s off-kilter brilliance is central to the achievement.

    The New Yorker

    An astonishing portrait . . . Gunty delves into the stories of Blandine’s neighbors, brilliantly and achingly charting the range of their experiences. . . . It all ties together, achieving this first novelist’s maximalist ambitions and making powerful use of language along the way. Readers will be breathless.

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

    Transcendent . . . Compelling and startlingly beautiful . . . Gunty weaves these stories together with skill and subtlety.

    Clea Simon, The Boston Globe
  • Books by Tess Gunty

  • Media About Tess Gunty

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  • 212 572-2013
  • Tess Gunty travels from Los Angeles, California

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