Ben Marcus

Acclaimed Novelist


“Ben Marcus is the rarest kind of writer: a necessary one. It’s become impossible to imagine the literary world—the world itself—without his daring, mind-bending and heartbreaking writing.”
 —Jonathan Safran Foer

“Marcus is a writer of prodigious talent” —NY Times Book Review


One of the rising stars of American letters, Ben Marcus has become known for his wildly imaginative, often experimental, and deeply psychological novels and short stories. His highly lauded 2012 novel The Flame Alphabet (Knopf, 2012), which Portland Press Herald called “lavishly written and haunting to behold,” follows the lives of Sam and Claire as they try to escape from a world in which children’s speech—even that of their own loving daughter—has become lethal. His second novel, Notable American Women, is told primarily by a narrator who shares the author's name, and whose father asks “How can one word from Ben Marcus's rotten, filthy heart be trusted?”

Interview with Harper's

Marcus’ writing has been widely acclaimed by critics and writers alike—he’s the recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, a Whiting Writers Award, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was also awarded a fiction fellowship from Brown University, where he taught for several years before joining the faculty at Columbia, where he currently teaches. His stories and essays have appeared in Harper’s, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, the Believer, the New York Times, Salon, McSweeney’s, the Village Voice, BOMB, Poetry, and Time Magazine. He is the editor of the Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, and for several years was the fiction editor of Fence.

NY Times review of The Flame Alphabet

About THE FLAME ALPHABET (Novel, 2012)

“To people who just want to read a good yarn and who think Ben Marcus is too weird for them, I’d say: Think again . . . The novel can operate on multiple registers: as metaphor, sociology, conventional thriller, and, at bottom, discourse on parenthood and family that is freakishly sad and incredibly good.”
 —Book Forum


In The Flame Alphabet, the most maniacally gifted writer of our generation delivers a work of heartbreak and horror, a novel about how far we will go, and the sorrows we will endure, in order to protect our families. A terrible epidemic has struck the country and the sound of children’s speech has become lethal. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that people are going into hiding. All Sam and Claire need to do is look around the neighborhood: In the park, parents wither beneath the powerful screams of their children. With Claire nearing collapse, it seems their only means of survival is to flee from their daughter, Esther, who laughs at her parents’ sickness, unaware that in just a few years she, too, will be susceptible to the language toxicity. But Sam and Claire find it isn’t so easy to leave the daughter they still love, even as they waste away from her malevolent speech. On the eve of their departure, Claire mysteriously disappears; and Sam, determined to find a cure for this new toxic language, presses on alone into a world beyond recognition.

Ben Marcus' website