Jensen Beach’s “The Apartment” featured in The New Yorker


Gunter Kleist

Jensen Beach

“The Apartment,” a short story by Assistant Professor of Writing and Literature Jensen Beach, was featured in the Aug. 31 issue of The New Yorker, regarded by many as America’s preeminent literary publication.

A melancholy read, the story touches on a day in the life of Louise, a woman trapped in the present, whose fantasies about what could have been surface when a familiar surname moves into the apartment across the courtyard.

For Beach, having a story published in this rarified venue is anything but melancholy although it has changed a few things, at least temporarily. “The weirdest experience of it is seeing the way it’s this weird gatekeeper sort of thing,” says Beach. “You get published in The New Yorker and friend requests sort of pour out of nowhere on Facebook and follows on Twitter and you get random emails from people. I really appreciate that—it makes me feel good—but it’s really strange. You know, I had the stories out there before. Just not in The New Yorker.”

While Beach is no stranger to publication, just last year his story “Animals at Uneasy Rest” was featured in A Public Space, earning a slot in The New Yorker is no doubt a cut above what he’s accustomed to.

“It’s really exciting. It’s something that I’ve been trying to do for years,” says Beach. “The best thing about it is not just that it’s in The New Yorker, the preeminent publication in the United States, but also that I hope it does something for the book.”

Beach is referring to “Swallowed by the Cold,” a collection of interconnected short stories, including “The Apartment,” which is slated for publication early next year.

One of the common bits of writing advice has long been “Write what you know,” advice certainly embraced by Beach. The aesthetic elements of “The Apartment” were drawn from his experiences in living in Sweden.

“My first summer of grad school, my wife and I and the kids went back to Sweden for the summer,” he said. “My wife worked and I stayed with the kids. We borrowed an apartment from a friend and the view right across the courtyard was kind of what I had in mind when I started writing the story, but that really came a little bit later in the process. I would just write sentences and see what was there, then write another sentence and see if there was some story to chase after. That sounds precious and silly, but it’s kind of how it works.”

Writing “The Apartment” and other stories in “Swallowed by the Cold” was often a challenging experience for Beach.

“I tend to write in fits and bursts,” he said. “So, I’ll write a few hundred words of a draft relatively quickly, maybe in a day or two days, and then I’ll be kind of happy with it, but then feel like I’m stuck, and then just sort of go over those few other words over and over again until something breaks free and I can move forward a little bit. So, I think it probably took me a couple of months to get a very rough draft of the story out into shape.”

As JSC’s fiction specialist in the BFA Creative Writing program, Beach has a few words of advice for student up-and-coming authors as they struggle to forge their own stories: listen to your instincts.

“The Apartment” and “Animals at Uneasy Rest,” probably my second best publication, are stories that I doubted a lot early on in the drafting process. I like to say to my students: ‘just trust yourself,’” he said. “You’re the writer. You’re making the choices. You know what you want to do, and you have to be faithful to those goals and to what you’re aiming for. Even if you’re in a workshop and everybody tells you that the story sucks: if you don’t think it sucks, it doesn’t suck. There’s still something there. The story might fail in a lot of technical aspects, but if you can feel that thing about something that you’re writing, there’s something there and you should work toward that rather than giving up and letting someone else write for you.”