Chris WaldronJustin Taylor (BA, 2004)

Among many memorable experiences as an English major, Justin Taylor particularly enjoyed his work as a student of Terry Harpold. “Dr. Harpold is a profoundly dedicated educator, and his thinking – both intensely idiosyncratic and accessible – taught me worlds,” he fondly explains, “not just about the subjects we studied, but about how to forge connections between seemingly unrelated texts or schools of thought. It was impossible to be around him without being drawn in by his enthusiasm, his sheer intellect, and his wildly eclectic taste.” Several texts that he encountered in Dr. Harpold’s courses became permanent touchstones for him such as Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, certain short stories by Borges, and Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus. One course with Dr. Harpold that was strikingly influential was “Eccentric Spaces and Spatialities.” Not only was this course intellectually engaging for Justin and considered to be the best course he has ever taken, one memory stands as a testament to his experience: “At our last class meeting, when Dr. Harpold said a quick farewell before leaving us alone to do our course evaluations, the class did something I had never seen happen before, and indeed have never again seen since at any of the schools where I’ve studied or taught. We – the whole class – spontaneously broke out into a standing ovation.” Justin worked with Dr. Harpold on his honors thesis, which was on H.P. Lovecraft.

Kim Emery’s course “Queer Theory and Cultural Politics,” Phil Wegner’s Modernism class, and Nina Caputo, of the Religion Department, all added to his undergraduate education as well. Nina Caputo’s course on the apocalypse prepared Justin for writing his honors thesis and instilled in him an abiding fascination with the end-times that has continuously emerged in his published work. Additionally, the Master of Fine Arts faculty helped to shape his education and career. Professors such as Padgett Powell, David Leavitt, William Logan, and Jill Ciment influenced Justin tremendously. In his own words, Justin truly believes that UF is a very special place in that its undergraduates have access to a first-rate MFA faculty. He recalls that “at the time it just seemed natural, but looking back I realized how extraordinarily lucky I was to study in a cramped little writing suite with instructors that people much older and smarter than I was had struggled mightily for the privilege of working with.”

Graduating from UF in 2004, Justin moved to New York for an internship at The Nation and began to pursue his MFA degree in fiction at the New School in the fall of 2005. As he finished in 2007, an anthology of short fiction that he edited, The Apocalypse Reader, was published by Thunder’s Mouth Press. Shortly after, he began teaching composition courses and eventually creative writing at a number of schools in and around New York City: Columbia, New School, Rutgers, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Montclair State. Justin still teaches courses today and has become a successful author.

Recently, Justin published two books of his own, a story collection titled Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever (2010) and a novel, The Gospel of Anarchy (2011). Both books made The New York Times Editors’ Choice List and have received immense praise. Of Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever, Justin’s former UF professor Padgett Powell wrote, “This is not quaint blue-collar realism but something entirely more honest. There is a debt paid to Donald Barthelme, gratifying to see, and a strange undertow of Philip Roth, which makes for a new literary beast. Mr. Taylor has perfect touch, to frightening effect, does not presume, has power, and promises us new things.” Also, the Los Angeles Times praised Justin as “a master of the modern snapshot.” The Gospel of Anarchy, set in Gainesville, “explores the borders between religion and politics, faith and fanaticism, desire and need – and what happens when those borders are breached.” The New York Times, along with much acclaim of his new novel, regarded Justin as “[a] thoughtful miniaturist with an intuitive knack for the well-chosen detail,” and Black Book noted to readers that “You'll be blown away by this book, re-reading it for years to come.”

Interestingly, the deal for his fiction books was agented by fellow UF alum, Eva Talmadge, whom he met in David Leavitt’s fiction workshop. They reconnected in New York and have worked together on many projects since. Most recently, Eva and Justin co-edited a photo-anthology called The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide (2010).