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September 24, 2014

Debut novel explores brotherhood, betrayal in the South

man in front of pawn shop
“I like to write about work lives,” says Schottenfeld, whose debut novel Bluff City Pawn explores the life of a Memphis pawnshop owner. “I’m looking for the texture and specificity of what they do.”

In his first novel Bluff City Pawn, the James P. Wilmot Assistant Professor of English Stephen Schottenfeld explores the impact—often negative—that challenging economic times can have on people.

His new novel, Bluff City Pawn, follows Memphis pawnshop owner Huddy Marr as he enlists his brother’s help in a scheme to acquire a valuable gun collection.

Through the lives of three brothers, the book delves into themes of class, race, ownership, and loyalty.

When writing the novel, Schottenfeld researched pawnshops in Memphis by talking to workers about everything, from their lives to the items inside the stores.

“I like to write about work lives,” says Schottenfeld, who often takes a journalistic approach to fiction writing. “I’m looking for the texture and specificity of what they do.”

Inspired by a long stretch of commercial strips on Summer Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, Schottenfeld created the shop in Bluff City Pawn from research conducted in several stores over a year.

Once the setting and characters were shaped by the research, the story took on a life of its own, he said.

Nevertheless, throughout the five years of drafting the novel, he continued talking to pawnbrokers, as well as antique gun collectors, gold buyers, jewelers, and home builders.

A winner of multiple awards for short stories, Schottenfeld spent five years on the faculty of Memphis’s Rhodes College before joining the Rochester faculty in 2008.

In 2013, he was appointed the Wilmot Assistant Professor. He holds a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Schottenfeld teaches fiction writing, screenwriting, and modern and contemporary literature. He is also working on several short stories and has plans for a second novel based in Rochester.

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