Joshua Ferris

Bestselling Novelist
International Dylan Thomas Prize Winner
Shortlisted for Man Booker Prize

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • An Evening with Joshua Ferris

“Ferris’s writing is so fresh and mordant—a comedian’s sense of timing mixed with a social critic’s knack for shaking the bushes.”  —Interview Magazine

“This is fiction with the force of an avalanche.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Born in Chicago in 1974, Joshua Ferris is the author of three novels, all published by Little Brown & Company. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (2014) won the International Dylan Thomas Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The tale of an atheist dentist—and avid Red Sox fan—who longs for nothing more than to be part of a Jewish community, even while he doesn’t believe in god. The Paris Review calls To Rise Again at a Decent Hour “an impressive investigation of faith and doubt. It’s a novel full of existential humor, and the laughs start before the book has even begun.” A 2014 NPR Best Book selection, the judge’s citation calls it, “possibly the funniest, weirdest American novel of the year.”

Ferris’s highly acclaimed debut novel, Then We Came to the End (2007)—a satire of a Chicago advertising agency at the end of the dotcom boom—was a finalist for the National Book Award, recipient of the 2007 PEN/Hemingway Award, and was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.  A national bestseller, it was on the New York Times’ list of the ten best books of 2007, has been published in twenty-five languages, and sold in twenty countries. The LA Times writes, “What looks at first glance like a sweet-tempered satire of workplace culture is revealed upon closer inspection to be a very serious novel about, well, America.” The Telegraph calls it “funny and smart without being cynical.”

The Unnamed, (2010), is a dazzling novel about a marriage and a family and the unseen forces of nature and desire that seem to threaten them both. Tim Farnsworth loves his wife, his family, his work, his home. And then one day he stands up and walks out. And keeps walking. Constructed around one of Emily Dickinson’s poems that begins, “After great pain a formal feeling comes,” The Unnamed is the heartbreaking story of a life taken for granted and what happens when that life is abruptly and irrevocably taken away. Newsday writes, “Ferris’s literary magic transforms his bleak story not only into an intriguing novel of ideas but an existential mystery, an eerie road novel and, in spite of everything, an abiding love story.”

Among Ferris’s many other accolades, he is the winner of the Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers Award and is on The New Yorker’s 2010 “20 Under 40″ list of fiction writers worth watching. His first published story, “Mrs. Blue,” appeared in the Iowa Review in 1999. His short story “The Pilot” was published in The New Yorker in June of 2010; and his short story “The Dinner Party” was published in The New Yorker in August of 2008. His short fiction has appeared in Granta, Tin House, New Stories From the South, Best New American Voices, The Guardian, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, and Best American Short Stories 2009. His nonfiction has appeared in the anthologies State by State and Heavy Rotation.

Ferris attended the University of Iowa and the University of California, Irvine, and graduated from the University of Iowa with a BA in English and Philosophy in 1996. He then moved to Chicago and worked in advertising for several years before obtaining an MFA in writing from UC Irvine. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and family. 

Joshua Ferris’s website

Joshua Ferris’s latest novel is To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, which was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize and won the International Dylan Thomas Prize. He is also the author of the highly acclaimed debut novel, Then We Came to the End, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and received the 2007 PEN/Hemingway Award, and The Unnamed, his second novel. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, The Guardian, The Iowa Review, and Best American Short Stories 2009. He attended the University of Iowa and the University of California, Irvine, and his nonfiction has appeared in the anthologies State by State and Heavy Rotation.


Ferris’s writing is so fresh and mordant—a comedian’s sense of timing mixed with a social critic’s knack for shaking the bushes—that he manages to tackle religion and technology without robbing his readers of the clever incidentals of a man who cleans mouths for a living.  —Interview Magazine

Paul O’Rourke is a man made of contradictions: he loves the world, but doesn’t know how to live in it. He’s a Luddite addicted to his iPhone, a dentist with a nicotine habit, a rabid Red Sox fan devastated by their victories, and an atheist not quite willing to let go of God. Then someone begins to impersonate Paul online, and he watches in horror as a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account are created in his name. What begins as an outrageous violation of his privacy soon becomes something more soul-frightening: the possibility that the online “Paul” might be a better version of the real thing. As Paul’s quest to learn why his identity has been stolen deepens, he is forced to confront his troubled past and his uncertain future in a life disturbingly split between the real and the virtual. At once laugh-out-loud funny about the absurdities of the modern world, and indelibly profound about the eternal questions of the meaning of life, love, and truth, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a deeply moving and constantly surprising tour de force.

THE UNNAMED (Novel, 2010)

“Haunting and melancholy, furious and tender, The Unnamed is written with uncommon grace.” —Newsday

“In a radical departure from his satiric workplace comedy, Then We Came to the End, Ferris turns in a dark and utterly compelling second novel on the insanity of modern life. Tim Farnsworth is a very successful trial attorney who suffers from a mysterious illness. With no warning, he is overcome by the physical compulsion to walk and walk to the point of physical exhaustion. So far, he has recovered twice. But with the third recurrence, the illness threatens to take his family under. Over the years, his wife, Jane, has rescued him countless times, in the middle of the night, in the freezing cold, from suburban communities and city parks. Now both Jane and their daughter, Becka, struggle with deep sadness and the loss of hope as Tim returns home less and less often. Ferris imbues his story with a sense of foreboding, both for the physical world, in the grip of record-breaking temperatures, and for the vulnerable nuclear family and its slow unraveling. With its devastating metaphoric take on the yearning for connection and the struggles of commitment, Ferris brilliantly channels the suburban angst of Yates and Cheever for the new millennium.” —Booklist, starred review


“The Office meets Kafka. It’s Seinfeld rewritten by Donald Barthelme.” —Nick Hornby

No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency Joshua Ferris brilliantly depicts in his debut novel is family at its strangest and best, coping with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks. With a demon’s eye for the details that make life worth noticing, Joshua Ferris tells a true and funny story about survival in life’s strangest environment—the one we pretend is normal five days a week.


The mouth is a weird place. Not quite inside and not quite out, not skin and not organ, but something in between: dark, wet, admitting access to an interior most people would rather not contemplate—where cancer starts, where the heart is broken, where the soul may just fail to turn up.

I encourage my patients to floss. It was hard to do some days. They should have flossed. Flossing prevents periodontal disease and can extent life up to seven years. It’s also time consuming and a general pain in the ass. That’s not the dentist talking. That’s the guy who comes home, four or five drinks in him, what a great evening, ha-has all around, and, the minute he takes up the floss, says to himself, What’s the point? In the end, the heart stops, the cells die, the neurons go dark, bacteria consumes the pancreas, flies lay their eggs, beetles chew through tendons and ligaments, the skin turns to cottage cheese, the bones dissolve, and the teeth float away with the tide. But then someone who never flossed a day in his life would come in, the picture of inconceivable self-neglect and unnecessary pain—rotted teeth, swollen gums, a live wire of infection running from enamel to nerve—and what I called hope, what I called courage, above all what I called defiance, again rose up in me, and I would go around the next day or two saying to all my patients, “You must floss, please floss, flossing makes all the difference.”

A dentist is only half the doctor he claims to be. That he’s also half mortician is the secret he keeps to himself. That ailing bits he tries to turn healthy again. The dead bits he just tries to make presentable. He bores a hole, clears the rot, fills the pit, and seals the hatch. He yanks the teeth, pours the mold, fits the fakes, and paints to match. Open cavities are the eye stones of skulls, and lone molars stand erect as tombstones.

THE UNNAMED (excerpt)

She dressed quickly and left the house, walked down the long drive to the gate, and stood at the entrance looking in both directions. Their neighborhood had been developed to preserve the natural landscape, so that certain houses were set back on hills, some had small ponds out front, and all were safely buffered by trees. Late at night within the limited view of the headlights you could almost believe you were in the country. At the crack of dawn, with everything caught in the interminable cold snap, she found the street empty and quiet. Too early for the brave morning walkers, even for those neighbors who worked in the financial sectors. The black trees all around her stood with their sharp naked branches like burnt-out dendrites. She scanned for footprints in the snow, then returned up the drive.

She got inside the car and rounded the cul-de-sac. Breaking at the gate’s edge to look both ways, she was gripped by a familiar fear. She did not know which way to turn. He had forgotten to turn on the GPS. She pounded the steering wheel with her open palms.

Anger at God was a tired and useless emotion, anger with God was so terrestrial and neutering. She thought she had arrived at a peaceful negotiation but in fact it was only a dormancy and when her anger at God met her at the end of the drive she was exhausted.


How we hated our coffee mugs, our mouse pads, our desk clocks, our daily calendars, the contents of our desk drawers. Even the photos of our loved ones taped to our computer monitors for uplift and support turned into cloying reminders of time served. But when we got a new office, a bigger office, and we brought everything with us into the new office, how we loved everything all over again, and thought hard about where to place things, and looked with satisfaction at the end of the day at how well our old things looked in this new, improved, important space. There was no doubt in our minds just then that we had made all the right decisions, whereas most days we were men and women of two minds. Everywhere you looked, in the hallways and bathrooms, the coffee bar and cafeteria, the lobbies and the print stations, there we were with our two minds.


We believed that downturns had been rendered obsolete by the ingenious technology of the new economy. We thought ourselves immune from things like plant closings in Iowa and Nebraska, where remote Americans struggled against falling-in roofs and credit card debt. We watched these blue-collar workers being interviewed on TV. For the length of the segment, it was impossible not to feel the sadness and anxiety they must have felt for themselves and their families. But soon we moved on to weather and sports and by the time we thought about them again, it was a different plant in a different city, and the state was offering dislocated worker programs, readjustment and retraining services, and skills workshops. They’d be fine. Thank god we didn’t have to worry about a misfortune like that. We were corporate citizens, buttressed by advanced degrees and padded by corporate fat. We were above the fickle market forces of overproduction and mismanaged inventory.

What we didn’t consider was that in a downturn, we were the mismanaged inventory, and we were about to be dumped like a glut of circuit boards.