New York Times Bestselling Author
Fiction, Nonfiction, Criticism
National Book Award Finalist
- Reading Like A Writer
- Anne Frank’s Theatrical Afterlife
- Feminism in Fiction
- Writing About Art
- An Evening with Francine Prose
“Francine Prose is a keen observer, and her fiction is full of wryly delivered truths and sardonic witticisms that come from paying close attention to the world.” —The Atlantic
“Francine Prose has a knack for getting to the heart of human nature.” —USA Today
“Prose is the Meryl Streep of literary fiction, convincingly shifting between multiple voices and points of view-not just from book to book, but within a single work.” —NPR
Hailed by Larry McMurtry as “One of our finest writers,” Francine Prose is the author of numerous novels. Her most recent, The Vixen (2021), was praised by Amy Bloom in The New York Times: “The gift of Prose’s work to a reader is to create for us what she creates for her protagonist here: the subtle unfolding, the moment-by-moment process of discovery as we read and change, from not knowing and even not wanting to know or care, to seeing what we had not seen and finding our way to the light of the ending.” Her other novels include Mister Monkey (2016); Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 (2014), a NY Times Notable Book of 2014 and one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014; My New American Life (2011), a “satirical immigrant story that subtly embodies the cultural complexity and political horrors of the Balkans and Bush-Cheney America (Donna Seaman)”; Goldengrove (2008), a profoundly moving novel about a young girl plunged into adult grief and obsession after the drowning death of her sister; A Changed Man (2005), for which she won the first Dayton Literary Peace Prize in fiction; and Blue Angel (2000), a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award which was recreated in the film adaptation Submission in 2018.
Prose’s nonfiction books include, Cleopatra: Her History, Her Myth (Yale University Press, 2022); Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern (Yale University Press, 2015); Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife (HarperCollins, 2009); Reading Like A Writer (2006), a New York Times bestseller; The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired, a national bestseller; Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles, a biography of the painter for the Eminent Lives series; Sicilian Odyssey, a travel book; and; Gluttony, a meditation on a deadly sin. Her award-winning young adult novels include Bullyville and After. She is also the author of Hunters and Gatherers; Bigfoot Dreams and Primitive People; two story collections; and a collection of novellas, Guided Tours of Hell. Prose has also written four children’s books and co-translated three volumes of fiction. Her stories, reviews, and essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Best American Short Stories, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Observer, Art News, The Yale Review, The New Republic, and numerous other publications.
A fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities and a 1999 Director’s Fellow of the New York Public Library’s Center for Scholars and Writers, Prose is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, for which she has written such controversial essays as “Scent of A Woman’s Ink” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Can’t Read.” She is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and a Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bard.
In 2010, Prose was awarded the prestigious Washington University International Humanities Medal. Awarded biennially, the medal honors the lifetime work of a noted scholar, writer, or artist who has made a significant and sustained contribution to the world of letters or the arts. She has also been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a 1989 Fulbright fellowship to the former Yugoslavia, two NEA grants, and a PEN translation prize.
Prose has taught at Harvard, Sarah Lawrence, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, The University of Arizona, The University of Utah, the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers Conferences. She currently teaches at Bard College. A film of her novel, Household Saints, was released in 1993. In 2009, Prose was elected into the Academy of Arts & Letters. She lives in New York City.
Francine Prose is the author of numerous novels, including The Vixen; Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932; My New American Life; Goldengrove; A Changed Man; and Blue Angel. Prose’s nonfiction books include Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife; Reading Like A Writer, a New York Times bestseller; The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired; Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles; Sicilian Odyssey, a travel book; and; Gluttony. Her stories, reviews, and essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Best American Short Stories, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Observer, Art News, The Yale Review, The New Republic, and numerous other publications.
Cleopatra: Her History, Her Myth
“A lucid and persuasive reinterpretation. Readers won’t see Cleopatra the same way again.”—Publishers Weekly
The siren passionately in love with Mark Antony, the seductress who allegedly rolled out of a carpet she had herself smuggled in to see Caesar, Cleopatra is a figure shrouded in myth. Beyond the legends immortalized by Plutarch, Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, and others, there are no journals or letters written by Cleopatra herself. All we have to tell her story are words written by others. What has it meant for our understanding of Cleopatra to have had her story told by writers who had a political agenda, authors who distrusted her motives, and historians who believed she was a liar?
Francine Prose delves into ancient Greek and Roman literary sources, as well as modern representations of Cleopatra in art, theater, and film, to challenge narratives driven by orientalism and misogyny and offer a new interpretation of Cleopatra’s history through the lens of our current era.
It’s 1953, and Simon Putnam, a recent Harvard graduate newly hired by a distinguished New York publishing firm, has entered a glittering world of three-martini lunches, exclusive literary parties, and old-money aristocrats in exquisitely tailored suits, a far cry from his loving, middle-class Jewish family in Coney Island.
At once domestic and political, contemporary and historic, funny and heartbreaking, enlivened by surprising plot turns and passages from Anya’s hilariously bad novel, The Vixen illuminates a period of history with eerily striking similarities to the current moment. Meanwhile it asks timeless questions: How do we balance ambition and conscience? What do social mobility and cultural assimilation require us to sacrifice? How do we develop an authentic self, discover a vocation, and learn to live with the mysteries of love, family, art, life and loss?
“How does Prose do it? With precision, intelligence and wicked jocularity. She measures art in monkeys. She demands an evolution. This book hilariously swings through a backstage rank with hormones, ambition and an unforgettable cast of characters. Prose’s words entice and excite like a darkened theater where the show is just about to begin.” —Samantha Hunt
The acclaimed New York Times bestselling author weaves an ingenious, darkly humorous, and brilliantly observant story that follows the exploits and intrigue of a constellation of characters affiliated with an off-off-off-off Broadway children’s musical. Mister Monkey—a screwball children’s musical about a playfully larcenous pet chimpanzee—is the kind of family favorite that survives far past its prime. Margot, who plays the chimp’s lawyer, knows the production is dreadful and bemoans the failure of her acting career. She’s settled into the drudgery of playing a humiliating part—until the day she receives a mysterious letter from an anonymous admirer . . . and later, in the middle of a performance, has a shocking encounter with Adam, the twelve-year-old who plays the title role.
Francine Prose’s effervescent comedy is told from the viewpoints of wildly unreliable, seemingly disparate characters whose lives become deeply connected as the madcap narrative unfolds. There is Adam, whose looming adolescence informs his interpretation of his role; Edward, a young audience member who is candidly unimpressed with the play; Ray, the author of the novel on which the musical is based, who witnesses one of the most awkward first dates in literature; and even the eponymous Mister Monkey, the Monkey God himself.
With her trademark wit and verve, Prose delves into humanity’s most profound mysteries: art, ambition, childhood, aging, and love. Startling and captivating, Mister Monkey is a breathtaking novel from a writer at the height of her craft.
Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of The Modern
Acclaimed best-selling author Francine Prose offers a singular reading of Guggenheim’s life that will enthrall enthusiasts of twentieth-century art, as well as anyone interested in American and European culture and the interrelationships between them. The lively and insightful narrative follows Guggenheim through virtually every aspect of her extraordinary life, from her unique collecting habits and paradigm-changing discoveries, to her celebrity friendships, failed marriages, and scandalous affairs, and Prose delivers a colorful portrait of a defiantly uncompromising woman who maintained a powerful upper hand in a male-dominated world. Prose also explores the ways in which Guggenheim’s image was filtered through the lens of insidious antisemitism.
Lovers at The Chameleon Club, Paris 1932
A richly imagined and stunningly inventive literary masterpiece of love, art, and betrayal, exploring the genesis of evil, the unforeseen consequences of love, and the ultimate unreliability of storytelling itself. Paris in the 1920s shimmers with excitement, dissipation, and freedom. It is a place of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz venues like the Chameleon Club draw expats, artists, libertines, and parvenus looking to indulge their true selves. It is at the Chameleon where the striking Lou Villars, an extraordinary athlete and scandalous cross-dressing lesbian, finds refuge among the club’s loyal denizens, including the rising Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi, the socialite and art patron Baroness Lily de Rossignol; and the caustic American writer Lionel Maine. As the years pass, their fortunes—and the world itself—evolve. Lou falls desperately in love and finds success as a race car driver. Gabor builds his reputation with startlingly vivid and imaginative photographs, including a haunting portrait of Lou and her lover, which will resonate through all their lives. As the exuberant twenties give way to darker times, Lou experiences another metamorphosis—sparked by tumultuous events—that will warp her earnest desire for love and approval into something far more.
Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife
“What is it about Anne Frank and her novel-like diary that has given this deceptively simple work such a long and spectacular afterlife? Why and how, against all odds, did a young girl’s chatty, innocent, prodigiously well-crafted book become an integral part of our culture, our history, our souls, and our civilization?” These are the questions that Francine Prose answers in Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, her powerful exploration of the life of Anne Frank and the phenomenon that is The Diary of Anne Frank. The book will appeal to, and reach, the widest possible audience—general readers, teachers, and students, those of us who grew up with the diary, who want to find out more about it, and perhaps come to understand it in a deeper and different way.
Reading Like A Writer
Distinguished novelist and critic Francine Prose inspires readers and writers alike with this inside look at how the professionals read and write. Long before there were creative writing workshops and degrees, how did aspiring writers learn to write? By reading the work of their predecessors and contemporaries, says Francine Prose. In Reading Like A Writer, Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters. She reads the work of the very best writers—Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Chekhov—and discovers why these writers endure. She takes pleasure in the long and magnificent sentences of Philip Roth and the breath-taking paragraphs of Isaac Babel; she is deeply moved by the brilliant characterization in George Eliot’s Middlemarch. She looks to John Le Carré for a lesson in how to advance plot through dialogue, to Flannery O’Connor for the cunning use of the telling detail, and to James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield who offer clever examples of how to employ gesture to create character. She cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted. Written with passion, humor, and wisdom, Reading Like A Writer will inspire readers to return to literature with a fresh eye and an eager heart.
Articles & Audio
Read What’s In Print
• Review of Cleopatra: Her History, Her Myth by Francine Prose – The Times
• Review of The Vixen: An Aspiring Editor Meets a Thorny Dilemma – New York Times
• A Wacky Road to Redemption: On Francine Prose’s The Vixen – LA Review of Books
• How Francine Prose Turned the Cold War Into a Comedy – Shondaland
• Many are disillusioned with American democracy. Can Joe Biden win them over? – The Guardian
• Words Still Matter, by Francine Prose – NY Review of Books
• Review of Mister Monkey – New York Times Book Review
• Is It Harder to Be Transported By a Book As You Get Older? — New York Times
• Read Francine Prose’ Article Enthralled by Sicily, Again — New York Times
• Review of Lovers at the Chameleon Club — New York Times
• Interview with Francine Prose about A Changed Man — Book Browse
• Article about My New American Life — BOMB
• Review of Goldengrove — The Guardian
• Review of Reading Like a Writer — New York Times
Listen to Audio
• The Novel, The Vixen, Explores The Moral Ambiguity Of 1950s America – NPR
• Francine Prose on America’s Need For The Written Word – KCUR
• Francine Prose Explores Anne Frank’s Literary Genius — NPR
• Francine Prose on Lovers at the Chameleon Club — MPR News
• Coronavirus hasn’t just infected our bodies – it’s infected our consciousness too by Francine Prose – The Guardian
MY NEW AMERICAN LIFE (novel excerpt)
Lula was twenty-six. Old, she thought on dark days. Only twenty-six on bright ones. She had time, but she had more time if she stayed in this country. She wanted to learn that American trick, staying young till forty. Some American girls even got better looking. Not like Eastern Europeans, who started off ahead but fell off a cliff and scrambled back up a grandma. Maybe the pressure to marry aged them before their time. But their was no pressure on Lula. If her ancestors wanted grandchildren, they were keeping quiet about it.
—from Chapter One
GOLDENGROVE (novel excerpt)
We lived on the shore of Mirror Lake, and for many years our lives were as calm and transparent as its waters. Our old house followed the curve of the bank, in segments, like a train, each room and screened porch added on, one by one, decade by decade.
When I think of that time, I picture the four of us wading in the shallows, admiring our reflections in the glassy, motionless lake. Then something—a pebble, a raindrop—breaks the surface and shatters the mirror. A ripple reaches the distant bank. Our years of bad luck begin.
ANNE FRANK (nonfiction excerpt)
Reading Anne’s diary, we become the friend, the most intelligent, comprehending companion that anyone could hope to find. Chatty, humorous, familiar, Anne is writing to us, speaking from the heart to the ideal confidante, and we rise to the challenge and become that ideal confidante. She turns us into the consummate listener, picking up the signals she hopes she is transmitting into the fresh air beyond the prison of the attic. If her diary is a message in a bottle, we are the ones who find it, glittering on the beach.
Within a few pages, the transparency of Anne’s prose style has convinced us that she is telling the truth as she describes the world around her and looks inward, as if her private self is a foreign country whose geography and customs she is struggling to understand so that she can live there. Among the motifs that run throughout the book is Anne’s urgent desire to find out who—what sort of person—she is.
READING LIKE A WRITER (nonfiction excerpt)
Can creative writing be taught? It’s a reasonable question, but no matter how often I’ve been asked, I never know quite what to say. Because if what people mean is: Can the love of language be taught? Can a gift for storytelling be taught? then the answer is: No. Which may be why the question is so often asked in a skeptical tone implying that, unlike the multiplication tables or the principles of auto mechanics, creativity can’t be transmitted from teacher to student. Imagine Milton enrolling in a graduate program for help with Paradise Lost, or Kafka enduring the seminar in which his classmates inform him that, frankly, they just don’t believe the part about the guy waking up one morning to find he’s a giant bug.
CARAVAGGIO (biography excerpt)
He was thirty-nine when he died, in the summer of 1610. He had been in exile, on the run for the last four years of his life. He slept fully clothed, with his dagger by his side. He believed his enemies were closing in on him and that they intended to kill him.
He was wanted for murder in Rome, for stabbing a man in a duel that was said to have begun over a bet on a tennis game. It was not the first time that he had been in trouble with the law. He had been sued for libel, arrested for carrying a weapon without a license, prosecuted for tossing a plate of artichokes in a waiter’s face, jailed repeatedly. He was accused of throwing stones at the police, insulting two women, harassing a former landlady, and wounding a prison guard. His contemporaries described him as mercurial, hot-tempered, violent.
Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, was among the most celebrated, sought after, and highly paid painters in Rome.