Garth Greenwell

I think literature is the best technology we have for communicating the experience of consciousness, for capturing what thinking feels like. To do that, consciousness has to be embedded in a particular place, a particular time, a particular body; one sign of the success of a piece of writing, for me, is the extent to which I feel immersed in a physical environment.

British book award

pen/faulkner Finalist

National Book Award Longlist




So rarely do words make comprehensible the inevitability and confusion of desire and determination as Garth Greenwell’s writing does. His sensibility is akin to James Baldwin’s, and he observes the world with eyes like those of Tolstoy. With shimmering prose and undiluted intensity, Cleanness captures the indefinableness of pain and intimacy, love and alienation, vulnerability and sustainability.
— Yiyun Li
Garth Greenwell’s sentences breathe, and are alive in completely unpredictable ways. Words are voyages says John Donne. Greenwell is a novelist whose art makes a poet stand on his toes.
— Ilya Kaminsky
Cleanness reaches into the relationship between masculinity and violence with more depth than any book I’ve read in a very long time, and it does it by elaborating both the tender and brutal means that men who try to love other men employ to survive the violence they inherited and the violence they still possess. It is, in the best sense, a disturbing book for the simple reason that it speaks the truth.
— Adam Haslett
With What Belongs to You, American literature is richer by one masterpiece. The character Mitko is unforgettable, as all myths are. He reigns at the heart of this book, surrounded by the magic flames of desire.
— Edmund White

Garth Greenwell is the author of the forthcoming Cleanness, a work of fiction, which will be published in January 2020 by FSG. Alexander Chee, in advance praise for the book said, “This can only be the work of master.” Greenwell’s first novel, What Belongs to You (FSG, 2016), won the British Book Award for Debut of the Year, was longlisted for the National Book Award, and was a finalist for six other awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, it was named a Best Book of 2016 by over fifty publications in nine countries, was praised as “the great gay novel for our times” by The New Republic, and is being translated into a dozen languages. His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, A Public Space, and VICE, and he has written criticism for The New Yorker, the London Review of Books, and the New York Times Book Review, among others.

Among the praise Greenwell has received, noted critic James Wood wrote in The New Yorker, “In an age of the sentence fetish, Greenwell thinks and writes, as Woolf or Sebald do, in larger units of comprehension . . . Rhythm, order, music, and lucid expression ... if the novel's formal control has a rare delicacy there is nothing at all hermetic about the story the narrator tells, which has a bitter urgency.” Ron Charles, book critic for The Washington Post said, "What Belongs to You whispers like an incantation of desire ... In Greenwell’s poetic sentences, emotional fearlessness is mated with extraordinary sensitivity to the tremors of regret ... This is a novel of aggressive introspection, but Greenwell writes with such candor and psychological precision that the effect is oddly propulsive ... In the end, a novel like this can’t offer any resolution except its perfect articulation of despair that anyone with a heart will hear."

When asked about being labeled a “gay writer” in an interview that appeared in Guernica, Greenwell said, “I feel an intense debt to the queer writers who made my life—my life as a writer, my life full stop—possible, and I hope very much that I’m continuing a tradition of queer writing. I also absolutely reject any suggestion that by writing specifically queer stories and in aesthetic traditions or modes that have been coded as queer I am sacrificing any of the universal relevance or impact literature can lay claim to. I write from my experience as a queer man, and I write for queer readers. I also write out of my sense of the literary tradition, broadly conceived, and I write into and for that tradition. I am a gay writer, absolutely. And in no way does that fact limit the reach or importance of what I write.”

Greenwell holds graduate degrees from Harvard University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the Iowa Writers Workshop. A native of Kentucky, Greenwell taught high school in Sofia, Bulgaria for four years before returning to the States. He is the 2018-19 John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. He lives in Iowa City.



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