Up-and-Comers: Roy Norvell GrahamPosted on September 25, 2013 | by Jeremy Grossman
Roy Norvell Graham always had a feeling he wanted to be a writer, but he didn’t know it for sure until the beginning of his freshman year at NYU.
At that point, Graham, now 21 and a senior in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, wasn’t sure what to focus his major — psychology, maybe. But then his collegiate seminar professor, award-winning author Jonathan Safran Foer, read something that Graham wrote, and told him that if he really wanted it, he had potential to be a writer.
“So I was like, ‘Alright, that’s an endorsement,’” Graham said. “It made me think, ‘Do I want it? How much do I want it?’ And I decided I really wanted it.”
Foer might be proud to learn that Graham took his advice to heart — last summer, Graham received the Dean’s Award for Summer Research from Gallatin, for which he was awarded a grant of $2,500 to write his own novel. “Farlands” is inspired by Graham’s own experience attending and working at a live-action roleplaying camp, The Wayfinder Experience, in Kingston, N.Y.
“It is, in many ways, a fairly autobiographical story,” Graham said. “I’m not in the book, and none of the characters are people that I know. But it’s all very much drawn from my powerful memories of these fantastical summers and people that I met and feelings that I had growing up at this place.”
“Farlands” focuses on a group of 17-year-olds as they make the transition from camper to counselor at a roleplaying camp, and realize that the place they loved as children may not be around for much longer.
“It’s a story about fantasy, and coming into conflict with reality,” Graham said.
Graham devoted all of last summer to working on “Farlands” — except for August, which he took off to work at the camp that inspired the novel. For the rest of the season, Graham worked nonstop, with the grant money being used for rent, food and coffee.
“I’d sit down and start working,” Graham said. “And the first 30 minutes, sometimes even the first hour, were always the hardest part … it’s always the hardest part to get through the first stretch, the first push.”
“But after that, you get into a rhythm, and you start liking what you’re doing,” Graham said. “And you start feeling the buzz, and you become less self-conscious, and you become a little less critical of yourself, and your writing joints get oiled up.”
Currently, Graham is halfway through writing “Farlands,” and plans on being finished by the end of the school year. He would love to publish the novel someday, but not before the current draft has been “thoroughly edited” and “torn to pieces.”
“I think I have discovered a lot about my own capacity for work,” Graham said. “Before I went into this, I had all these limits … like, ‘I can’t write right now, I’ve been in class all day.’ ‘I can’t write right now, I’m not in the right state of mind.’”
“And after writing every day for two months, I realized that that is bullshit on my part,” he said. “And I am capable of writing under any conditions.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 25 print edition. Jeremy Grossman is arts editor. Email him at email@example.com.