Dolnick, Ben 1982–

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Dolnick, Ben 1982–


Born 1982, in Chevy Chase, MD. Education: Graduated from Columbia University.


Home—Brooklyn, NY. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer. Previously worked as a zookeeper at New York City's Central Park Zoo, a bookseller, a research assistant in an immunology lab, and a tutor.


Zoology: A Novel, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2007.


Ben Dolnick studied English and writing at Columbia University in New York prior to working an assortment of odd jobs, including as a tutor, a research assistant at an immunology lab, and as a zookeeper at the Central Park Zoo. He went on to mine his zookeeping experience in his debut work of fiction, Zoology: A Novel. The book focuses on the coming-of-age traumas of Henry Elinsky, whose first year of college is harder than he expected. Henry soon finds himself helping out back at his old elementary school where his father teaches music, and wondering what the adult world has in store for him. When his brother offers to let him visit him in New York for the summer, it seems to be the adventure he is looking for, and Henry sets off. Once in New York, he applies for a job at the Central Park Zoo, where he is hired to work in the children's area. The job is less than glamorous, but Henry toughs it out, meeting new people both in his apartment building and at work, dealing with family emergencies, and seeking out his destiny. Library Journal reviewer Jan Blodgett found Dolnick's effort to be "written with humor and insight." Nola Theiss, writing for Kliatt, commented that "the New York City settings, especially the zoo and the apartment building, give the story some original and funny situations." A critic for the New Yorker stated that Dolnick "demonstrates an engaging lightness of touch."

Dolnick told CA: "I discovered pretty early on—and occasionally to my parents' dismay—that I enjoyed imitating people, seeing if I could ‘get’ their voices right. This started out as just mimicking a waiter or a teacher, but pretty soon I discovered fiction writing as a means of getting people in a more significant and satisfying way. And of course I don't think I'd be a writer if I didn't love to read. Every time I read something I love, I find myself wanting to rush to my keyboard.

"I have a huge and ever-changing list of writers I love, all of whom I hope influence me one way or another. There's Alice Munro, whom I just can't say enough about. And Philip Roth, Nicholson Baker, George Saunders, William Maxwell, Penelope Fitzgerald, William Trevor…. "

When asked to describe his writing process, Dolnick said: "I'm afraid it isn't particularly systematic. I get an idea in my head and then spend a long time worrying at it, typing paragraphs and deleting them, feeling guilty for not writing more, wondering if this could possibly work, and after a year or two of that I realize that I'm actually, to my amazement, pretty close to having a book, and then a kind of pleasant rush kicks in.

"I'm sure there are lots of surprises I'm not thinking of, but one thing is how similar the task of writing remains, even once you've been published. I think a part of me expected that after publication, all doubts and difficulties would vanish, to be replaced by a steady stream of confident production. Not so, or at least not for me. It's just the same self-doubting, disorganized process as ever.

"I wouldn't mind it if [my books] made someone, or multiple someones, feel the way that I feel when I read a particularly beloved piece of writing. Which is to say, the reader would feel less alone, more alert to the busy-ness of his or her mind—and, even if the story isn't particularly cheery, happier."



Kliatt, May, 2007, Nola Theiss, review of Zoology: A Novel, p. 24.

Library Journal, May 1, 2007, Jan Blodgett, review of Zoology, p. 72.

New Yorker, June 11, 2007, review of Zoology, p. 130.

Publishers Weekly, March 5, 2007, review of Zoology, p. 39.

School Library Journal, July, 2007, Mary Ann Harlan, review of Zoology, p. 129.


Armchair Interviews Web site, (October 2, 2007), Diane A. Brown, review of Zoology.

Ben Dolnick Home Page, (October 2, 2007)., (October 2, 2007), Lyn Seippel, review of Zoology.

Random House Web site, (October 2, 2007), author profile.