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Get to Know Amor Towles

A photo of author Amor Towles sitting on a stone bench.

Literary Arts will host a special event with fan favorite author Amor Towles on Wednesday, February 1, 2023 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Tickets start at just $21.

Born and raised in the Boston area, Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. Having worked as an investment professional for over twenty years, he now devotes himself full time to writing in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children. His novels Rules of CivilityA Gentleman in Moscow, and The Lincoln Highway have collectively sold more than five million copies and been translated into more than thirty languages.

Towles’ best-selling book A Gentleman in Moscow takes place over thirty years, while his most recent, The Lincoln Highway covers ten days. What determines the scope of a story? How do writers decide where to go from one project to the next?

Check out this Q and A about The Lincoln Highway to find out what Towles thinks about these questions and more.

Author Amor Towles

“I always start with a very simple idea, a conceit that has popped into my head and which can be described in a sentence. In the years that follow, I’ll keep returning to the idea, picturing the characters, the settings, the events, eventually filling a few notebooks while slowly gaining an understanding of the story as a whole.”


The Lincoln Highway tells the story of four boys in 1954 on the road initially heading West, but who eventually end up going the opposite way, to New York.

Towles reads from and discusses his latest novel in this interview with NPR.

“Between the age of, call it 0 and 16, we are constantly receiving information that shapes us. But suddenly around the age of 17, 18, 19, we start reflecting on all the things we receive, some of which we are willing to accept, some of which we reject, but certainly one of the biggest threads of this influence that comes to us, it comes in the form of stories.”

Towles has said that while growing up, his family didn’t go out to eat much or take extensive trips. Instead, he enjoyed the “consuming” feeling of reading the books his father would buy him. What are his reading habits? Where do his literary interests lie?

In this interview with The New York Times, Towles talks about what surprises are on his bookshelf, the titles he keeps close, and the best book that was ever gifted to him.

“Before I set out on a new project, I like to read a handful of novels written in (and ideally set in) the time period in which I’m about to immerse myself. My new novel, The Lincoln Highway, takes place over 10 days in June of 1954, so in anticipation I read a number of American works from the mid-50s including James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953); Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1953); Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955); and Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955). What I love in particular about this list of concurrent classics is how varied they are in terms of geography, tone and theme. In aggregate they provide a snapshot of America’s socioeconomic, regional and racial diversity. They also showcase very different approaches to effective storytelling.”

Here’s a closer look at Towles and his career

Amor Towles was born in 1964 and grew up in the area surrounding Boston, Massachusetts. After graduating from Yale College in 1987, he went on to receive his M.A. in English from Stanford University. For Towles, 1989 was a pivotal year; his master’s thesis—a short story called “The Temptations of Pleasure”—was published in The Paris Review’s winter edition. That same year, Towles’ intentions to complete a two-year teaching fellowship with the Yale-China Association were abruptly cancelled in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

His post-graduate plans ripped out from under him, Towles acted on impulse and moved to New York, where he quickly settled on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and has since spent most of his adult life. Though Towles arrived in the city with dreams of being a writer, he instead found work at a boutique investment firm and, consequently, put writing on hold for seven years.

Of his career, Towles has said, “I always thought I was a writer on the inside, but after a few years of not writing you can’t make that claim anymore.” To make things more complicated, by the time Towles sat down to start his first novel, Rules of Civility (2011), he already had two small children. He allotted himself a one-year timeline for the project, beginning work on January 1, 2006 and finishing the draft 365 days later.

Rules of Civility documents a series of chance encounters among the bright, ambitious, and glamorous young crowd of late-1930s Manhattan. Named one of the best books of 2011 by the Wall Street Journal, the novel was a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into over 20 languages. NPR called Rules “Glittering… Stylish, elegant and deliberately anachronistic… Like the literary touchstones he evokes—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton and Louis Auchincloss… [Towles] writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.”

In 2013, after more than twenty years of climbing the industry’s ranks, Towles retired from his day job as an investment executive. He then turned his attention to writing full-time, focusing his efforts on what would eventually become A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). The inspiration for this second novel originally came to Towles in 2009, when, on an annual business trip to Geneva, he recognized several of his hotel’s guests from the year before. Intrigued by the idea of being trapped in a grand hotel, Towles began meticulously constructing the story of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. Kirkus Reviews called it “a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight… A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles’ stylish debut, Rules of Civility.”

A Gentleman in Moscow was a New York Times bestseller for fifty-nine consecutive weeks and has been translated into over thirty-five languages—including Russian. The Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle, and NPR each named it one of the best books of 2016. Entertainment One acquired the television rights to the book in 2017, with plans for Sam Miller (Luther) to direct and Ewan McGregor to star in the miniseries. The book has sold over four million copies worldwide since its release.

Towles’ latest title, The Lincoln Highway (2021) debuted as #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and was named best book of the year by Amazon, Barack Obama, and elsewhere. Set in 1954, the story follows a group of three young men and a boy whose plans to travel to California from the Midwest don’t go as planned—with them eventually ending up in New York instead. Bill Gates said that he “finished Lincoln Highway hoping that Towles is busy writing his next novel. It almost doesn’t matter what time or place he decides to write about. I just know I’ll want to read it.”

Aside from his novels, Towles also authored the short story collection Eve in Hollywood (2013), which serves as a companion piece to Rules of Civility. He wrote the introduction to Scribner’s 75th anniversary edition of Tender Is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Towles lives with his wife, Maggie, and their two children in Gramercy Park, Manhattan. Among many others, Towles’ personal interests include 1950’s jazz music, rock n’ roll on vinyl, vintage antiques, and fine art.

“Perhaps counter-intuitively, one of the reasons I outline with such care is to free up my imagination while I’m writing the book. Because I have a detailed outline in place, when I’m starting a chapter I don’t have to wonder what the setting or key events are going to be. Instead, I can focus on the psychological nuances of the moment, the poetry of the language, and whatever surfaces from my subconscious.”


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