Publisher's Weekly reported that HIV-positive activist, writer, and Gays against Guns organizer Tim Murphy "sold a novel to Grove Atlantic titled Correspondents. Murphy, who has contributed to the New York Times and the Nation, among other publications, is a cofounder of the group Gays Against Guns and author of the novel Christodora (also from Grove Atlantic). Correspondents, which Peter Blackstock and Morgan Entrekin acquired from Susan Golomb at Writers House, is set in Iraq in 2003 and follows a young American journalist with Irish-Lebanese roots and her Baghdadi interpreter. Blackstock said the novel, slated for summer 2019, is “a brilliant exploration of how American history is indelibly tied up with the history of immigration, about assimilation and politicization, and asks important questions about journalism and war.”
Murphy's sweeping 2016 novel Christodora was a masterful meditation on the HIV epidemic and history that blew us away. Plus spoke to Murphy about the new book.
Your new book sounds exciting — has it been long brewing?
I started it right after I sold my last book, Christodora, the summer of 2015. I have wanted for a really long time to write about my Arab-Irish Boston roots — I don't think there are many novels about Arabs who've been in the U.S. a long time, or even a short time and I've also been obsessed for many years with the pointless and arrogant U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent mayhem and misery it brought on a people who did not deserve that after years of suffering under Saddam. And this is how those two strands came together, in a story about Rita, a young woman from a longstanding Arab-Irish American family who ends up covering the invasion from Baghdad, the relationship she forms with her Iraqi interpreter, a young man named Nabil struggling with his identity, and what happens to both of them and their families in the years after the invasion. I started writing the book pre-Trump and ended it a year into Trump, and Trump and all the shit things he stands for ended up informing the book even though it actually ends at the beginning of the Obama era.
Although Chistodora was fiction, it tackled rather heady topics including drug addiction and HIV — can we expect the same in Correspondents?
Ha, there is no HIV/AIDS, no drug addiction and even not very much sex in Correspondents. It's about very different things: about assimilation into whiteness and American-ness, about families, about the ethical ambiguities of journalism, about who we are as a country. It's my love letter to my family and to the beat-up yet beautiful Middle East and to the idea of America at its best, which sadly is just an idea at the moment and in some ways has always been an idea that stands apart from the shifting realities.
How did the writing and reception of Chrsitodora change your life?
I felt like I did what I wanted to do with Christodora, which was to tell a story inside of me and of many people I know about how the AIDS crisis shaped and in many ways took its toll on us as a queer community and as New Yorkers into the present day. So I think the biggest way it changed things for me was merely the satisfaction of being able to say that I accomplished that and was lucky enough to find a good publisher and for it to have strong critical success. And even since then there have been other books that touch on the wages of AIDS like The House of Impossible Beauties and The Great Believers, so it is very gratifying to be part of that body of work, which I hope is still growing. There is still a lot to unpack about how HIV/AIDS shaped both middle-age and young queer people today — even in the age of PrEP!