After meeting through Boston-based creative writing nonprofit GrubStreet, 11 writers decided to get together once a month to workshop one another’s latest drafts and talk shop over “epic” snacks—thus, the Chunky Monkeys were born. The group, now in its sixth year, has produced best-sellers such as Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of a Body and Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, but the members are really hitting their stride in 2019 with five books being published—and a sixth, Jennifer De Leon’s Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, slated for early 2020.
The name Chunky Monkeys (the “Chunks” for short) was originally coined by group member Adam Stumacher in reference to a situation where a writer may want to take up two workshop slots to present “chunks” of novels. Yet there’s no typical structure to the three-hour meetings other than the division of time into three sections, used for everything from on-the-spot feedback to career advice and craft talks. “We often adapt to fit where people are in their projects,” says Whitney Scharer, who scored a $1 million book deal for her first novel, The Age of Light, which was recently released. “I think this flexibility is one of the main reasons the group is thriving.”
CHUNKS OF CHANGE: The Boston-based Chunky Monkeys are set for a big year
Besides being so amenable to writers at varied stages of composition, the Chunks’ camaraderie and generosity are qualities that members believe set them apart from other writing groups. “From the first meeting, I could tell this group would be different,” says Marzano-Lesnevich. “Everyone was devoted to helping each other make the work the best it could be.” Christopher Castellani adds: “This is also a group to which we can bring work in its roughest form and ask, ‘What, if anything, do I have here?’ and then expect an honest, loving response.”
From planning extra social events to wielding metaphorical “battle axes” when a member needs some extra care, the Chunks are all about celebrating personal and professional accomplishments—often with cake and Champagne. “When I found out that my own book was being published, I felt a complex stew of emotions,” says Calvin Hennick, whose book is set to drop in December. “But when Grace [Talusan] told me that her book was being published, I ran around my house, jumping up and down and screaming into the phone.”
Many members attribute the success of their first books to being part of the Chunky Monkeys and—even with a few members moving out of state—being rooted in Boston. “I moved to Boston because of its writerly reputation,” says Sonya Larson, whose “Gabe Dove” short story made it into The Best American Short Stories 2017. “It’s a city that cares about books and—for whatever reason—Boston writers are successful and just really, really nice.”
We’re going bananas for the Chunky Monkeys’ 2019 releases
Whitney Scharer The Age of Light (February)
This novel, set in opulent 1930s Paris, details the life of model-turned-photographer Lee Miller.
Christopher Castellani Leading Men (February)
Shedding light on legendary playwright Tennessee Williams’ romance with his partner Frank Merlo, this novel begins when the couple meets Swedish actress Anja Bloom at a lavish party in Italy.
Grace Talusan The Body Papers (April)
This memoir depicts the Talusan’s life as a Filipino immigrant living in a New England suburb—facing racism and a cancer diagnosis.
Chip Cheek Cape May (April)
While honeymooning in New Jersey, a shy pair of newlyweds becomes entangled in tensions between members of Cape May’s high society.
Calvin Hennick Once More to the Rodeo (December)
In this memoir exploring manhood and fatherhood, Hennick embarks on a cross-county road trip with his 5-year-old son, culminating in a visit to the annual rodeo in his rural Iowa hometown.