The Enduring Popularity of Historical Fiction

Here’s a sneak peak of the upcoming New York Bookwoman! Roz Reisner writes about the enduring popularity of historical fiction and some of what you’ll see at the April 26th Historical Fiction Panel

By Roz Reisner

In case you haven’t noticed, our historical fiction panel, coming up on April 26th, is part of a literary trend that’s at full throttle this year.  Publishers Weekly recently called historical fiction “a nimble genre that works its way into all corners of the storytelling ecosystem.” If you don’t think there’s an interest in the past, just remember the excitement surrounding the new Downton Abbey series which was followed by a spate of books about the period, at least one of which made it to the Times’ bestseller list.  Many of the literary prize winners and shortlists this year have been dominated by historical fiction—just this past month, Julie Otsuka’s lovely novel about Japanese picture brides, The Buddha in the Attic (a 2011 Great Group Reads pick!), won the PEN/Faulkner Award.

So what’s the appeal of historical fiction for readers and writers? For readers, it’s the chance to learn history in an entertaining way, to gain insight into what life was like in another era, or to enjoy a new twist on familiar events or characters. I love the feeling of starting a novel and knowing that you’re in for an absorbing story. It’s like being taken on a trip where someone else is doing the work of packing, getting you to the airport, arranging the sightseeing, and providing a safe and satisfying return home. With historical fiction, there’s the extra bonus of time travel–you can’t get to that destination without the author’s imagination and research.

For writers, it’s the chance to re-write history, to give voice to people who didn’t make it into the history books, to imagine the interior life of a well-known person, or to satisfy a fascination with an era. I’m sure the authors at our panel—Carole DeSanti and Kathryn Harrison—will tell us why they chose France’s Second Empire and the final days of the Romanovs for their novels. I’ve been reading and enjoying both novels—Carole DeSanti’s The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R and Kathryn Harrison’s Enchantments—and I’m eager to hear about their process of imagining the characters and the setting. Since we’ll have an agent, editor, and reviewer on the panel as well, we’ll have a picture of what happens when that precious manuscript leaves the author’s hands and what it encounters as it makes its way to us.  RSVP to join us at 6pm on April 26th at the Wix Lounge for a lively evening of discussion, networking, and refreshments.


  1. I have my questions all ready to go! Can’t wait for this event!

    • Valerie Tomaselli

      Same here. I think that hearing the pros–with accomplishements in the field–will help publishers, editors, agents, publicists, and authors understand what this trend is all about and how you can successfully publish into the market. Can’t wait.

  2. I love the fact that historical fiction is still popular – it’s ne of my favorite genres. I’ve always been interested in history, but as an adult out of school, studying history tends to be either not feasible or incredibly dry. Historical fiction allows my interest to be fulfilled without reading dry textbooks. I’ve never really looked at it from the author’s perspective – I like what you say about being able to ‘re-write’ history. Personally, I view historical fiction as giving a voice to a new dimension of history, fictional or not.
    THank you also for recommending DeSanti and Harrison’s novels – I’ll check them out. Right now, I’m reading “A Tainted Dawn” by BN Peacock (, set in 1789 London. So far I’m really enjoying it!