Julie Orringer is reading books by Rachel Cusk, Cathy Park Hong

A talk by the author of ‘The Flight Portfolio’ is part of the Florida Holocaust Museum Lecture Series.
Julie Orringer is the author of 'The Flight Portfolio.'
Julie Orringer is the author of 'The Flight Portfolio.' [ Brigitte Lacombe ]
Published Feb. 7, 2020

Julie Orringer, a graduate of Cornell University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, found the idea for her new book, The Flight Portfolio, while researching her previous book The Invisible Bridge. While reading about the Franco-German armistice of 1940 and its Surrender on Demand clause — which allowed for the arrest and “surrender” of any individual the Germans “demanded” — she learned of American journalist Varian Fry and his work with the Emergency Rescue Committee, a private American relief organization set up to help anti-Nazi writers and artists. “While reading his memoir, I was taken by his incredible generosity and propensity for risk,’’ Orringer said. She is working with production company Studio Airlift in Berlin to make The Flight Portfolio into a TV series. As part of the Debbie and Brent Sembler Florida Holocaust Museum Lecture Series, Orringer will speak at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s University Student Center ballroom.

What’s on your nightstand?

The book I have just finished is Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. I have known her work for 20 years. We first met in 2008, but I read her even before that. The book consists of essays in which she explores her relationship to the notion of being Asian American and her relationship to (being Korean) and to the English language and to her art and poetry. Even though she is a friend of mine, I did not know that before she pursued a career as a poet and writer, she thought she’d be a visual artist. One of the essays is about the relationship she has with two other female visual artists and how they pushed and challenged each other. There is also an essay on standup humor and Richard Pryor and how he changed the conversation on race. It is also a brilliant examination of our fraught political moment. I love it. I also have Outline by Rachel Cusk. I’ve been traveling, and the first chapter involves a conversation with a person she meets on the plane. There’s an intense psychological inquiry on the nature of love and changes love undergoes through the decades. I’m somewhere near midlife, and in a relationship with a man I met and fell in love with in graduate school. We have two children, 5 and 9, and we are both writers, and it is interesting to think about the evolution of connection and how we continue to learn about each other.

When you were your kids’ age, what books were you interested in?

I loved Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved Katherine Paterson’s Of Nightingales That Weep. She is well known for Bridge to Terabithia, but this one took place in Japan at the end of the 11th century. I also loved the Betsy-Tacy books, a series about three girls. Part of the reason I loved it was because Betsy was a writer. I loved books on storytellers, and years later it occurred to me how I was passionate for books about young women who had a passionate relationship with art. I also loved very much The Secret Garden.

Piper Castillo can be reached at