Jill Eisenstadt is the author of the novels From Rockaway, Kiss Out and Swell and with her sister, director Debra Eisenstadt, the co- writer and co-producer of the feature film, The Limbo Room. Other work has appeared in such publications as The New York Times, New York Magazine, Vogue, Elle, The Boston Review, Queens Noir and the Best of the New York Times City Section. Jill has taught at the Bennington College July Programs, through Teachers & Writers Collaborative and at Eugene Lang, The New School and was an editor at BKLYN and COLUMBIA magazines. She is the recipient of a Columbia University Writing Fellowship, a National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts Teacher Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Grant.
She lives in Brooklyn.
Swell began as a story about the Golden Venture, a freighter full of undocumented Chinese that ran aground off the Rockaways in 1993. That night, the police went house to house in search of people hiding in garages and tool sheds. When later, I was invited to contribute a Rockaway piece for the anthology, Queens Noir, my mind instantly returned to that crisis and an image popped into my head: A woman finds a shipwrecked refugee hiding in her shower house. After the story was published, I began to think about all the other misfortunes visited upon my hometown. Granted, there are rational reasons in each case. A barrier island is exposed, vulnerable to water and wind. A place neglected by the city suffers. A disproportionately large 9/11 death toll isn’t surprising given the number of firefighters who live on the peninsula. And Rockaway’s proximity to Kennedy Airport makes a serious plane crash all but inevitable.
And yet…or thus, the place for me has always seemed a little cursed, a little haunted. Also, like the best fictional characters, beautiful, brave and full of contradictions. To expand the story into a novel, I decided to jump ahead to the fraught turn of this century. I’d known several families who fled the city after the terrorist attacks and I’d always wondered if they felt safer upstate or out west. Of course no one I knew had moved to Rockaway for security. Why would they? But I couldn’t resist having the Glassman family do this. The conceit seemed so funny to me. And much more than that, I was really curious what would happen?