Rivka Galchen

Mary Ellen von der Heyden Fiction Fellow - Class of Spring 2011


American Academy Project: The Nature Theater of Oklahoma
Current Location: New York


Rivka Galchen is a New York-based writer and a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine. Her debut novel, Atmospheric Disturbances (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008), was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year as well as both a Slate and Salon.com Best Book of 2009. Galchen has taught creative writing at Columbia University, where she completed her own MFA in Fiction in 2006 and was a Robert Bingham Fellow. She also holds a medical degree in psychiatry from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Her medical expertise and psychiatric sensitivity reveal themselves discreetly in Atmospheric Disturbances through the leading character of Leo Liebenstein, a psychiatrist who believes his wife has been replaced by an almost identical double. Galchen won the 2010 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, was a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award in 2009, and has received fellowships from the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers and the Rona Jaffe Foundation. Her work has appeared recently in the New Yorker, Harper’s, the New York Times, the Believer, and New York Magazine. In July 2010, Galchen was featured as one of the New Yorker’s "20 under 40" fiction writers.

American Academy Project

The Nature Theater of Oklahoma

As Mary Ellen von der Heyden Fiction Fellow, Galchen will work in Berlin on her second novel, The Nature Theater of Oklahoma. The work has grown out of her parallel interests in religious autobiographies and pulp fiction, in particular old fashioned horror and mystery stories from the early twentieth century. The author is fascinated by the kinship between these types of popular texts in terms of their economics as well as their deployment of the harrowing, the fantastic, and the sublime.

Lecture Summary

Published in Arts and Culture

The Nature Theater of Oklahoma

The Nature Theater of Oklahoma, aside from being the name of Rivka Galchen’s work-in-progress, is actually the name of the last chapter of Kafka’s America, also known as The Man Who Disappeared, the Prague modernist’s first-written novel and last published work (posthumously, in 1927). In America, European immigrant Karl Rossmann eventually finds his way around New York seeking employment. He also eventually sees a poster for the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, which is offering jobs to everyone. »