Nell Zink

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Nell Zink
Nell Zink 2018.jpg
Born1964 (age 55–56)
Virginia, United States
Alma materCollege of William and Mary; University of Tübingen

Nell Zink (born 1964[1]) is an American novelist. Her novel, Mislaid, was longlisted for the National Book Award.[2][1] The Wallcreeper, Zink's debut novel, released in the US by the independent Dorothy, a Publishing Project, was named one of 100 notable books of 2014 by The New York Times.[3][4]


Zink was raised in rural Virginia, a setting she draws on in her novel Mislaid (Ecco, 2015).[4][5] She attended Stuart Hall School and the College of William and Mary, where she earned a B.A. in Philosophy.[4][1] In 1993, while living in West Philadelphia, Zink founded a zine called Animal Review, which ran until 1997 and "featured submissions and interviews with punk musicians about their pets, from King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp writing about his rabbit Beaton Bunnerius Bun, to Jon Langford, of British punk band The Mekons, discussing his loach fish."[5] Zink has worked as a secretary at Colgate-Palmolive, and as a technical writer in Tel Aviv. Zink moved to Germany in May 2000,[3] eventually earning a PhD in Media Studies from the University of Tübingen.[4][1] She worked as a contributor for the daily newspaper in Tübingen, Schwäbisches Tagblatt, and later as a translator for Zeitenspiegel agency.

Writing career[edit]

After fifteen years spent writing fiction exclusively for a single pen pal, the Israeli postmodernist Avner Shats,[5] Zink caught the attention of Jonathan Franzen with a "brazen" letter promoting the work of the German ornithologist Martin Schneider-Jacoby. The two writers began a correspondence, and Franzen was surprised to learn that Zink had no published literary work. Zink began to create work for Franzen:

I was so tired of Franzen saying that I should take myself seriously as a writer and I wanted to make very clear that there's a very clear distinction between taking your career seriously and taking your writing seriously. So I wrote the first part of a new novel, called The Wallcreeper, in just four days to show him that I knew what I was doing as a writer.

In early 2012, Zink sent Franzen her collected manuscripts. Franzen tried unsuccessfully to interest publishers in her 1998 novel Sailing Towards the Sunset by Avner Shats (sic). It was Franzen's agent who finally negotiated a six-figure publishing deal for Zink's Mislaid.[5] Meanwhile, The Wallcreeper, "about a bird-loving American couple that moves to Europe and becomes, basically, eco-terrorists" (Keith Gessen), was published independently in the United States in 2014. New York Times reviewer Robin Romm wrote "Zink's work may be, at times, cerebral and a little distancing, but its vitality and purpose are invigorating."[6] and that, "The passages about European environmental groups, government programs and methods of protest are less universal and more like amusement for insiders -- more like the impromptu they started as, in other words." Overall she compliments the book on its humor, liveliness, and critique of humanity's "mindless consumption".[7] Kirkus Reviews called it "a brief yet masterful novel of epic breadth."[8]

In Joe Dunthornes' review of "Nicotine", he says, "There is a recklessness and a freshness to this complex tale that is at its best when its elements of horror and humor collide."[9][10]

Zink's second novel, Mislaid (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2015), her first under a major publisher, follows the story of a white lesbian, Peggy, later 'Meg', born in rural Virginia in the 1960s. Peggy leaves her marriage to her gay professor, and with the help of a stolen birth certificate, creates a new African-American identity for herself and her daughter, Mireille/Karen. Accounting for this unusual 'passing', Peggy/Meg explains:

"Virginia was settled before slavery began, and it was diverse. There were tawny black people with hazel eyes. Black people with auburn hair, skin like butter and eyes of deep blue green. Blond, blue-eyed black people resembling a recent chairman of the N.A.A.C.P. The only way to tell white from colored for purposes of segregation was the one-drop rule: If one of your ancestors was black — ever in the history of the world, all the way back to Noah's son Ham — so were you."

Though Dwight Garner called the book "a minor and misshapen novel from a potentially major voice,"[11] he later named it among his top ten books for the year.[12] Walter Kirn, in the New York Times Book Review, found it a "provocative masquerade with heart," identifying an "elegance and confidence that are exceptionally rare now."[13] Times Magazine writer Daniel J. Sharfstein has observed that while Zink's plot may be "over-the-top," the real-life case of former NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal bears a remarkable parallel.[14]

In a New York Times book review of Nell Zink's "Nicotine", Dwight Garner praises the book, saying, "I could listen to Ms Zink's dialogue all day; she may be, at heart, a playwright." In Joe Dunthorne's review of Nicotine, he says "There is a recklessness and a freshness to this complex tale that is at its best when its elements of horror and humor collide." He only criticizes the overcomplexity of the plot.[9]

In a book review about Mislaid by Walter Kirn, he admits that toward the end of the novel, "Piquancy and intimacy are lost, sacrificed to momentum and high mayhem. The damage isn't fatal, though; the novel's charm and intelligence ran deep." Overall, he compliments the book's pace and "sharp observations" made by her narration.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Zink lives in Bad Belzig, Germany.[4] Zink worked in construction, waited tables, and was a secretary before working as a translator. "There's never a market for true art," Zink told an interviewer, "so my main concern was always to have a job that didn't require me to write or think."[3]

Zink has been married twice. On May 8, 1990, she married Benjamin Alexander Burck in a "very simple civil ceremony" at the Henrico County Courthouse in Richmond, Virginia.[16] She later married the Israeli composer and poet Zohar Eitan.[citation needed]



  • The Wallcreeper (200 pages, Dorothy, a publishing project, 2014, ISBN 0989760715)
  • Mislaid (256 pages, Ecco, 2015, ISBN 0062364774)
  • Nicotine (304 pages, Ecco, 2016, ISBN 0062441701)[17]
  • Private Novelist (336 pages, Ecco, 2016, ISBN 0062458302)
  • Doxology (416 pages, Ecco, 2019, ISBN 006287778X)[18]

Short Fiction[edit]


  • Zink, Nell (2019). "The Bird Angle". Harper's, November 2019.[21]
  • Zink, Nell (2020). "This Babushka Has Talons". n+1, January 2020.[22]

Liner Notes[edit]

Critical studies and reviews[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Contemporary Authors Online". Biography in Context. Gale. 2015. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  2. ^ Alter, Alexandra (September 17, 2015). "Lauren Groff, Nell Zink are Among National Book Award Fiction Nominees". The New York Times ArtsBeat Blog. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  3. ^ a b c Jakubowski, Matthew. "Purity of Essence: One Question for Nell Zink". Paris Review Blog - The Daily. The Paris Review. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Dorothy, A Publishing Project - The Wallcreeper". Dorothy, A Publishing Project. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d Ellis-Petersen, Hannah (Jan 4, 2015). "Nell Zink: there's a clear distinction between taking your career seriously and taking your writing seriously". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  6. ^ Romm, Robin (Oct 17, 2014). "Nell Zink's 'Wallcreeper'". The New York Times. The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  7. ^ Romm, Robin. "Nell Zink's 'Wallcreeper'". Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  8. ^ "The Wallcreeper, by Nell Zink (starred review)". Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2014). Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  9. ^ a b Dunthorne, Joe. "Nicotine by Nell Zink review – third novel in 18 months from a fresh talent". Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  10. ^ Garner, Dwight. "Review: Nell Zink's 'Nicotine' Is Hard to Put Down, Despite Its Unruly Plot". Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  11. ^ Garner, Dwight (May 19, 2015). "In Nell Zink's 'Mislaid'". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Garner, Dwight (December 10, 2015). "Top Ten". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Kirn, Walter (June 4, 2015). "'Mislaid' by Nell Zink". The New York Times. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  14. ^ Sharfstein, Daniel J. (June 15, 2015). "Rachel Dolezal's 'Passing' Isn't So Unusual". The New York Times Magazine.
  15. ^ Kirn, Walter. "'Mislaid,' by Nell Zink". Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  16. ^ Zink, Anne Y. (May 15, 1990). "Flotsam and Jetsam (column)". The Westmoreland Journal. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  17. ^ "Nicotine - Nell Zink - Hardcover". HarperCollins Publishers. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  18. ^ "Doxology - Nell Zink - Hardcover". HarperCollins Publishers: World-Leading Book Publisher. Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  19. ^ Zink, Nell (June 2017). "Bonebreaker". Harper's Magazine. ISSN 0017-789X. Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  20. ^ Zink, Nell (July 2019). "Marmalade Sky". Harper's Magazine. ISSN 0017-789X. Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  21. ^ Zink, Nell (November 2019). "The Bird Angle". Harper's Magazine. ISSN 0017-789X. Retrieved 2019-11-29.
  22. ^ ZINK, NELL. "This Babushka Has Talons". Retrieved 19 January 2020.

External links[edit]