The days following the March 23 release of his debut novel Raft of Stars have “been a whirlwind in the best of ways” according to author Andrew J. Graff, visiting assistant professor of English at Wittenberg University.
Just five days after its publication, Raft of Stars landed on the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association best-sellers list, appearing in the No. 13 spot on a list that included renowned writers Kazuo Ishiguro, Kristin Hannah, Brit Bennett, Harlan Coben, Fredrik Backman, and Lisa Scottoline for the week ending March 28, 2021. The book has also been selected as an Indie Next pick for April 2021, named one of Parade’s Best Books for Spring 2021, and promoted as Lead Read by publisher Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Raft of Stars is a coming-of-age tale of adventure set in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where Graff grew up hiking and fishing and where he returned after serving a tour in Afghanistan as a U.S. Air Force jet mechanic and finishing his education. Living on the banks of the Peshtigo River, he felt like he was “home for the first time in a long time” and was inspired to start his novel.
“One night, looking out at the frozen islands of the Peshtigo, the cedars and cattails, the dark river flowing between them, I began writing about the home and forests and rivers and small towns I love,” he said. “I was glad to spend years rewriting my way along the riverbanks.”
The book follows the wilderness adventures of two boys, nicknamed Bread and Fish, who escape to the Northwoods after believing they have committed a crime.
“The boys are pursued by two adult casts of characters who each must ‘come of age’ in their own way as they wrestle with the question ‘Am I going to make it through these forests, these friendships, this cosmos?’” Graff explained. “By the story’s end, I like to think Raft is a novel that attempts to answer that and takes care of the reader’s heart while doing so.”
Based on book reviews, the novel does just that.
“I had no idea people wrote books like Andrew J. Graff’s Raft of Stars anymore – a rousing adventure yarn full of danger and heart and humor and characters worth worrying about,” wrote Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls. “It’s as if, after observing the deplorable state we’re all in right now, the author took it upon himself to raise our collective spirits.”
Described by the Boston Globe as an “accomplished debut,” Raft of Stars has received favorable reviews from the New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, Milwaukee Magazine, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist.
Graff marked the launch of his book by headlining a virtual event for the Wisconsin Book Festival with best-selling author Nickolas Butler. He also recently appeared in conversation with J. Ryan Stradal, author of the New York Times best-seller Kitchens of the Great Midwest, for a virtual event hosted by Boswell Book Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
He’s working on a second novel, also set in the Wisconsin Northwoods.
“After finishing Raft of Stars, it was clear that I wanted to write more about that place and its people,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave yet. This new book will have new characters and new drama, but [it] is definitely headed back to those cold whitewater rivers and beautiful pine forests.”
Graff earned a B.A. in English from Lawrence University and an MFA in English (Fiction) from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He joined the Wittenberg faculty in the fall of 2020 and teaches courses in composition and creative writing.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with the impressive students here,” he said. “Their writing is bold and smart and very strong. I’ve enjoyed my time in Witt’s classrooms.”
For more information about Andrew J. Graff and Raft of Stars, visit https://www.andrewjgraff.com.