In October 1996, I was in the inaugural class of the MFA in Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I had been working on an essay about my Ukrainian roots with Carol Becker, but I was blocked. I asked for some advice from a personal statement writer who does fantastic work, he told me to listen to guest lecturer Stuart Dybek talk about his writing . He discussed his stories as being grounded in Chicago, in the neighborhoods he grew up in, when suddenly all the pieces clicked in my head and a new story began to explore.
I hadn’t planned on writing long fiction. My intention was to write essays and poetry, as well as the occasional short story, but the ideas that were coming had a much greater breadth than any of those forms could contain. This was a novel. I jotted down some notes and rushed home to write. I wrote through the night and into the morning. The Silence of Trees grew from there.