NEW YORK — A novelist who last week posted an open letter saying the gang rape her character endured in the best-selling “Luckiest Girl Alive” was based on her own experience in high school said this week that the past few days have been a “whirlwind.”
The 32-year-old Jessica Knoll, beginning a tour to promote the book’s paperback release, told a gathering of about 50 friends and fans at a Barnes & Noble bookshop in New York that the response to her essay had been intense and overwhelmingly positive.
“This has been, to put it mildly, a whirlwind week,” she said, adding that she had been thinking about a quote by W.H. Auden, “Art is born of humiliation.”
“This book was born of my humiliation,” she told the audience. “This book is my pain, and this book is my power, after years of powerlessness.”
“Luckiest Girl Alive” was published last year and caught the attention not just of the general public but of Reese Witherspoon, who is producing a planned film adaptation, with Knoll writing the screenplay.
Parallels between Knoll’s life and the heroine of her novel, Ani FaNelli (or TifAni FaNelli), were clear from the start. Both grew up in the suburbs, attended private school in Philadelphia and worked in magazines (Knoll is a former editor at Cosmopolitan). But Knoll had long kept a crucial connection secret, acknowledging that she had dodged questions about Ani’s rape, questions raised in part by the book’s dedication: “To all the TifAni FaNellis of the world, I know.”
“I’ve been running and I’ve been ducking and I’ve been dodging because I’m scared,” Knoll wrote March 29 in an essay titled “What I Know,” which appeared on LennyLetter.com, a website co-managed by Lena Dunham.
Knoll was greeted warmly Wednesday and read a brief passage from the novel about Ani’s determination to leave high school behind. To the author’s surprise and relief, she received few questions about her essay. Audience members asked in
stead about her favorite authors (Gillian Flynn, Donna Tartt, Flannery O’Connor), her writing process and her work on the screenplay.
“I do want to talk about the essay, but I don’t want it to drown out the book,” she said after the reading. “I think it was a good balance tonight.”
One attendee, Elizabeth Blanchard, said that she had bought “Luckiest Girl Alive” when it first came out and that Knoll’s essay intensified her feelings about it.
“It makes it more personal,” the 24-year-old Blanchard said. “To learn about what she went through takes the book to a different level.”