Alumni Profile

Catherine Davidson, MPW '93

Personal Archaeology “Awful, boring, flat” are the words Catherine Davidson uses to describe her first draft of The Priest Fainted.

Rewrites, evidently, made a big difference. Published last year in hardback and recently issued in paperback by Henry Holt, the novel earned the 1998 Stephen Crane Award – bestowed by the editors of the Book-of-the-Month Club on the work they deem the year’s most promising literary debut (a $5,000 prize makes the honor all the sweeter).
The Priest Fainted – a lyrical, myth-filled narrative set in Greece – has since won rave reviews from the New York Times, London Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and Booklist, among others.
“Any ethnicity that hasn’t been written about in the mainstream has a slew of stories to be told,” says Davidson, MPW ’93, whose novel criss-crosses the lives of three generations of women in one Greek family: the narrator’s grandmother, a Greek villager who emigrates to New York but never feels at home; her unhappy daughter, who is lured back to Greece and discovers romance; and the narrator, a 21-year-old Californian who also flees to Greece, falls dangerously in love and, in the course of a yearlong adventure, learns truths about her family, her heritage and herself.

THE LOS ANGELES-BORN DAVIDSON
made her pilgrimmage to Greece after graduating from Harvard. Upon returning home, she enrolled in USC’s Master of Professional Writing Program. Her first assignment, a novella, became the precursor to The Priest Fainted.
“When you start to write, sometimes you don’t really know where you’re going,” she says. “You dip into something that’s chasing you and you make discoveries in your writing.” After a disappointing start, Davidson says, “somehow it came to me that my mother had spent a year in Greece when she was that age. What about that mysterious year? So I started to recover these stories through my imagination.”
The book’s title comes from a bittersweet dish prepared in northern Greek villages. Called imam baldi, it’s made with a garlicky mixture of fried eggplant and zucchini, says Davidson. The phrase literally means “the priest fainted.” The recipe – and lovely metaphor – is passed down hand to hand, mother to daughter.
A degree and the first draft of a critically acclaimed novel are not the only things Davidson took away from USC. While on campus she also met her husband, Timothy Ward MA ’90. Soon after the novelist’s graduation, the couple moved to London, where she continues to write as well as teach at Richmond College; he is a barrister.


 

 


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Catherine Davidson, MPW '93

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Davidson photo by Michael Fox / JACKET Illustration by Jeremy Kidd; Design by Raquel Jaramillo

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