AMHERST, Mass. - A novel by University of Massachusetts creative writing alumnus Bret Lott has been chosen as Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club Selection for February. Titled "Jewel," the novel originally appeared in 1991 and is one of eight books Lott has written since graduating from the University’s MFA program in creative writing in 1984.
Lott’s first book, "The Man Who Owned Vermont," began as his MFA thesis. His third book, the short story collection "A Dream of Old Leaves," is dedicated to his MFA thesis advisor, UMass writer-in-residence Jay Neugeboren.
"Brett was always a fine writer and an assiduous rewriter," says Neugeboren. "Whenever I gave him an edited version of a piece of fiction, he would have a revised and improved version back within the week, a sure sign of a true writer."
Lott has been hailed as one of the leading writers of his generation by numerous critics. The Los Angeles Times calls him "one of the most important and imaginative writers in America today," while the Boston Globe said, "In ‘Jewel,’ [Lott] applies his art to a broad canvas and produces what may stand as his masterpiece."
Set in the backwoods of Mississippi during World War II, "Jewel" tells the story of Jewel Hilburn, and the conflicts she faces when her sixth child is born with Down’s Syndrome. As she fights against prejudice, and her own fears, Jewel wins dignity for both her child and herself. Praising the novel, the New York Times said, "[‘Jewel’] is sweeping and beautifully written. A parable for our age."
Lott’s parents were raised in Mississippi and East Texas and relocated to Los Angeles in the 1950s. It is this Southern heritage - going back to the Civil War - that Lott drew from in writing "Jewel." Lott is the author of five novels: "The Man Who Owned Vermont," "A Stranger’s House," "Jewel," "Reed’s Beach," and "The Hunt Club."
He is also the author of two collections of widely anthologized short stories, "A Dream of Old Leaves" and "How to Get Home," and a memoir, "Fathers, Sons, and Brothers." He lives with his wife and two sons near Charleston, South Carolina and teaches at the College of Charleston and Vermont College.