Prof. Jennifer Finney Boylan Publishes First Mystery Novel for Adults

A prolific writer who has authored 15 books over three decades, Prof. Jennifer Finney Boylan, the inaugural Anna Quindlen Writer in Residence, keeps her readers on their toes. On April 11, book lovers joined the The New York Times contributing opinion writer on her latest literary adventure with the release of her first mystery novel for adults, Long Black Veil. She is the national co-chair of the Board of Directors of GLAAD, the non-profit organization that monitors discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community, a Board of Trustees member of the Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, and a relentless advocate who deftly explores legacy, visibility, and how one makes sense of his or her own past.

Recently, Boylan was quoted in Yahoo Style for speaking out against the Trump administration’s bathroom law repeal, explained how she uses “the medium of story to shine a light on one particular person’s experience” for the Philadelphia Gay News, and has written about gender and humanity for the Huffington Post.

Long Black Veil, which takes the reader from 1980 to today, follows the lives of five former college friends after one of them mysteriously disappears. In a recent interview with Out, Boylan acknowledges that people who have experienced a major life change may be “haunted by the before and the after” and defines what “stealth” means in the transgender community. More than a whodunit, Publishers Weekly called it a “a heartwarming midlife love story” and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo praises it as “one of the most eloquent pleas for empathy and moral imagination I’ve ever encountered.”  

Here, the author of The New York Times bestselling memoir She’s Not There discusses her newest novel, the new world of mystery fiction where the protagonist is transgender, and what it means to have multiple “lives.”

The novel introduces six college friends who are all very different from one another in many different ways. Do you personally identify with any of them?

I identify with all of them, of course. I am a book nerd like Quentin, and a food snob like Casey.  I have a potty mouth like Wailer. And like Rachel, I have an obsession with that Leonardo DaVinci painting of John the Baptist—a defaced version of which appears on the cover of the book [above]. John, in that painting, is a transfigured soul—beautiful, androgynous, one hand on his heart and the other pointing at heaven. He is, at that moment, something both mortal and eternal, male and female, compassionate and fierce. I think trans people have something of this in us too, having experienced so many different aspects of being human. Most trans folks I know have their fingertips on something both carnal and metaphysical.

The reader begins the story in 1980 in Philadelphia staring at an abandoned penitentiary. Why did you choose this place and time?

Eastern State Penitentiary is a real place, designed by Benjamin Franklin and closed in 1972— when I was growing up it was a giant ruin sitting there in the

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