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Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi’s Debut Novel

Emma Terhaar | Thursday, February 7, 2013


Notre Dame’s newest addition to the creative writing program faculty, Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi, has many reasons to be happy.  Not only did she receive several literary awards during her time at Brown University, but also she has a newly published work to add to her already-impressive resume.  Her first novel, “Fra Keeler”, was released last fall by independent publisher Dorothy, a publishing project.  Oloomi calls it “two joyful things happening at once.”

            With reviews cropping up in The Los Angeles Times as well as online journals such as Publisher’s Weekly and The Millions, the book is receiving plenty of positive press.  Jenny Hendrix from The Los Angeles Times called it “a stunning psychological thriller, a total identification with madness that creates drama without either belittling or romanticizing the insane.”

“Fra Keeler” is the story of a man who purchases a home because of the former inhabitant’s intriguing death.  He proceeds to investigate the death, slowly revealing his own madness to the readers.  This unique approach makes readers question the cliché madness motif seen over and over again in similar works, a welcome change that critics have overwhelmingly applauded. 

            Oloomi attributes much of “Fra Keeler” to the French New Wave films she began to watch while writing the novel.  Her new Midwestern surroundings are becoming influential in their own right as well.

 “I have started thinking about writing a piece about South Bend because I’m more interested these days in representing space and landscape,” Oloomi said. 

Right now it’s just a casual idea tossed around, but a novel about South Bend, or gasp,Notre Dame, would definitely receive a lot of attention on campus.  “Fra Keeler” can relate to Notre Dame in its own way as Oloomi suggests.

“There’s a lot of philosophical thinking that happens in the novel,” Oloomi said. “Thinking about death, intellectual mysticism, that could relate to the culture at Notre Dame and why I feel that the University is a good place for me in terms of my aesthetics.”

            Oloomi is now finishing her second book.  She said she is hugely thankful for the support she’s received on campus and from her colleagues. 

“They’ve been fantastic,” Oloomi said.  “It’s the most supportive department I’ve ever been in.” 

She also describes Notre Dame’s creative writing program to be very different from others, especially Brown University, where she completed her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in literary arts, because of the variety of artists Notre Dame has to offer.  Oloomi said Notre Dame’s MFA Program in creative writing is especially rich because of the diversity of aesthetics among its faculty.

            Notre Dame’s MFA faculty boasts a lineup including surreal poets like Johannes Goranssonand Joyelle McSweeney, who publish on their own press Action Books, bilingual poet Orlando Menes, nonfiction writer William O’Rourke, novelist Valerie Sayers and biotech revolutionary author Steve Tomasula.  Tomasula’s most recent novel, “In & Oz,” was published just this winter and is also receiving great reviews.

            “Fra Keeler” can be purchased in the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore as well as online at DorothyProject.com.