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Emily Ruskovich On Crafting Her Breakout Novel "Idaho"


This encore conversation first was broadcast in October, 2017.

Emily Ruskovich's debut novel, Idaho, centers on a mysterious and shocking act that fractures the lives of an entire family, and looks at the influences and reverberations from that event covering a span of nearly 50 years.  In June 2019, the novel won the International Dublin Literary Award, one of the most prestigious honors in the industry, and the largest prize awarded to a single-work of English literature.

Idaho, begins with a family in northern Idaho who experiences an unthinkable, mysterious tragedy. Left behind is a mother of two in prison, and another woman — who barely knows her — trying to make sense of it all. It seems impossible that the two little girls who once played together in the open fields of beautiful Mt. Iris are gone.

The wilderness at the heart of this novel is palpable, felt through Ms. Ruskovich’s [or could say Emily’s] gorgeous and sharp descriptions of everything from childhood rituals of play, to a young family laboring in summer fields and surviving winters in isolation,  to the physical punishments of a life spent in prison. But it’s the emotional wilderness of Idaho that we strive to overcome: The heartbreak of loss, the fragility and strangeness of memory, the acts of brutal cruelty overshadowed by tender kindness  —these are some of the themes in Idaho.

Emily Ruskovich is a 2015 winner of the O. Henry Award for her short story, “Owl.” Idaho is her first novel, and it is an LA Times bestseller, a Barnes and Noble “Great New Writers” Selection, an Amazon “Book of the Month,” and among The New York Times most anticipated books of 2017.

An Idaho native, Emily was raised on Hoo Doo Mountain in Idaho’s panhandle. She is a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and she recently returned to her home state to teach at Boise State University as a faculty member in our MFA Program in Creative Writing. She also will serve as an editor with The Idaho Review.