MHS Alumna & Author Returns to Her Roots

MHS Alumna & Author Returns to Her Roots
Posted on 01/14/2020
Montclair High School alumna and acclaimed author Julia Phillips (’06) returned to her roots to speak to students on Mon., Jan. 13.  Phillips’ best-selling debut, Disappearing Earth, is a crime novel set in the remote Kamchatka peninsula at the northeastern edge of Russia. The book, which tells the story of ​two sisters ages eight and 11, who go missing one August afternoon, has been published in 21 languages, was a finalist for the National Book Award and was selected as one of the New York Times Book Review’s “10 Best Books of 2019.”

“This is the first time I’ve been back to MHS since I graduated,” said Phillips, who now resides in Brooklyn. “I still feel a strong connection to Montclair. Being in high school here was a formative, intense and challenging experience.”

author speaks to students

Phillips said she “always wanted to be a novelist,” and had a strong interest in all things Russian. During her senior year in high school, Phillips used her Senior Option to work as an intern in a small publishing company. Following her MHS graduation, she attended Barnard College where she earned her degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Russian. Following that, she received a Fulbright scholarship for a year of research in Kamchatka. It was during that immersion into the culture and landscape that a potentially dangerous experience laid the groundwork for the plot of her novel. “This story is about the narrow line between safety and horror but also how the connections among the people in the community shape the outcome.”

During the hour-long talk, Phillips shared a few passages and took questions from students, some of whom were from the Creative Writing Club and the Real World Club. Students were particularly interested in Phillips’ advice about career and life. “I wish I’d known earlier and had the humility to understand how valuable it is to reach out to people around you for support,” she said. For the future authors she added, “read as much as possible, write as much as possible and become a part of the greater writing community, whether it’s through an internship or attending author talks.”

author reads book    students pose with author

Phillips warmth and passion resonated with students who were anxious to spend a few moments chatting with her following the presentation to which she gladly obliged and reflected on the success of her dream-turned-reality. “It’s bewildering and special,” she said of her success. “I feel very lucky.”
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