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School admin politics exposed in Ruderman’s satirical novel (Includes interview)

Ruderman’s novel gives readers a peek at the day-to-day conflicts teachers and their school administrators face. His sharp and witty prose and use of magical realism makes the novel a very entertaining read.

Ian Ruderman

“Inspired by two decades of teaching, this first-person narrative takes a comic look at the politics of a small boarding school, the follies of courtship and, of course, the parallel lives of students, teachers and Shaker ghosts.” –

Digital Journal had the opportunity to interview Ian Ruderman about his book.

DJ: Tell our readers a bit about your book.
Ruderman: In the Peculiar Grace of a Shaker Chair, The Mountainside School is a ragged little stump in the woods, a lonely child with three minivans, an asthmatic yellow bus, a grimy cafeteria and a collection of dorms that can only be described as fixer-uppers.

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Jeff Green—Greenie to friends and students—has been teaching there for eight years, but when he becomes the reluctant interim head of the English Department, his life is complicated by unwanted responsibilities, unforeseen romances and rivals who will stop at nothing to usurp his throne.

DJ: What genre does your novel fit into?
Ruderman: Literary Fiction with a touch of humor and a dash of satire.

DJ: What kind of readers will it appeal to?
Ruderman: Folks who like a carefully-crafted character-driven novel set at a unique boarding school.

DJ: What inspired you to write the book?
Ruderman: I worked at a small chaotic school from 1992-1996. I have vivid memories of sunny winter mornings in the branches of apple trees with my Hands-to-Work crew, coaching a ragtag co-ed tennis team, and being serenaded by the hissing radiators in the out-of-dorm-dormparents’ room in a dorm called Ann Lee. I was also young, single, lost in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by a dedicated but wonderfully dysfunctional crew of teachers. I received a crash course in at school politics, the follies of courtship and, of course, the parallel lives of students, teachers and Shaker ghosts. I had no choice but to use the place as the setting for a novel.

DJ: Do you have a favorite excerpt from the book? If so, please share it with us.
Ruderman: Here’s a silly little moment that still makes me laugh:

“Shawna Brophy had become a folk hero. When one of us would say ‘I’m having such a bad day I’m thinking of brophying it,’ we’d remember our poor Math intern. The students had also added brophyisms to their vocabulary. They were saying things like, ‘Hodge pulled a brophy on his History test, and Davis wouldn’t give him a make-up’ or ‘Cass is going all brophy in the dorm because she got an extra day of restriction.’

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The parents of our Asian students must’ve wondered why their children were now honoring this shy young woman? I’m sure they even considered buying more current dictionaries to keep abreast of the hectic, overzealous language their kids were learning. It was rumored that the seminal phrase, pull a brophy, had even crossed the international dateline and found a home in North Korea, where it was now airdropped in leaflets encouraging Communists soldiers to throw down their weapons and pull a heroic brophy.

Our Shawna Brophy rose to fame when she packed up her apartment and ran away less than two weeks after the students arrived. No one chased Shawna to find out why she left and, sadly, no one actually noticed she was gone. Two full days after her escape I was sitting at the teachers’ table in the cafeteria when a student walked up and asked where his tutor was. Even though Ms. Brophy was supposed to be living in my basement, I was stumped; Kara was stumped, and Sam, who was whining about his salty Goulash, had never said boo to the girl.
‘She took off,’ said Candy. ‘Got a good look at you guys and freaked.’
‘For real?’ said the student, and within seconds the news spreading from table to delighted table and the phrase ‘pull a brophy’ had been coined.” – The Peculiar Grace of a Shaker Chair

DJ: Tell me something about yourself that our readers might find interesting.
Ruderman: Man, but when I think about what people should know about me, I get stuck.

My son tells me that I should point out that I have two awesome kids. One eats rocks and sledgehammers for breakfast. The other taught himself how to read before he could get his pants off by himself and he eats only pasta. My wife grew up with three brothers, so she’s used to being around noisy, stinky guys, who love books and cars and the dreaded New England Patriots. When it comes to writing, I’ve always been inspired by the interesting (strange, unusual, scary) people I meet and the books explore in my day job as a high school English teacher. When I’m not sharing Macbeth with sixteen year olds, I’m cooking for my two little barbarians and dreaming of summer, when I get to write full time.

DJ: If you were given one wish to make a change in the world, what would it be?
Ruderman: When I see my kids romping through the woods or playing in the surf, and I think about what the world will look like when they’re older, I know we have to take more aggressive steps to address the problems of climate change.

DJ: Do you have anything you would like to say to Digital Journal readers?
Ruderman: I’m honored to connect with you. I seem like my people, maybe a little hipper, but definitely my people.

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DJ: What is next for you?
Ruderman: I’ve finished the a draft of a new novel, a somewhat darker tale of a man who deals with his midlife crisis by doing a little grave robbing.

“I am a graduate of Vassar College, the NYU writing program and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. My fiction and poetry have appeared in Ark: The NYU Graduate Literary Journal and Literal Latte. I have also published essays on teaching poetry online for PBS Teacher and Teacher’s Domain. Currently, I am teaching English in Winchester, Massachusetts. When I’m not teaching or writing, I’m playing with my wife and two boys, hitting tennis balls or falling off of bikes. ” – Ian Ruderman

Contact author at:
Official website:

Novel is available on Amazon.


Ian Ruderman’s Facebook page .

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