Josh Ritter is best known for writing literate roots-pop songs full of catchy choruses and Americana details. Following six well-reviewed albums and a seemingly endless tour, he’s written his first novel, “Bright’s Passage” ($22, the Dial Press), which follows a World War I veteran making a biblical trek through the American wilderness. Ritter will read from his book Thursday at Politics & Prose.
What about this idea inspired a novel instead of a song?
A good song is like an envelope. It should be able to hold the fullest story you could imagine. A novel is like a letter. I really wanted to open up the envelope and see the full scope of what was in there.
Was it a challenge to follow an idea through a 200-page novel instead of a three-minute song?
It was a welcome change of pace and style. When the songs for [Ritter's 2010 album] “So Runs the World Away” were done, I felt like, rather than jumping back into songwriting, I would try something a little different.
Does reading inspire your songwriting, or vice versa?
Writing of any kind is inspiring if it’s done well. In a lot of ways my songs come from life — books, movies, friends, dreams. And I feel like that’s what a novel is, as well.
Which writers influenced or guided this project?
The main one I look to is Muriel Spark, the great Scottish writer who’s most famous for “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” I always felt like her writing was touched at the very edges with a supernatural quality, and I always liked the way her books were very short and sharp and funny and cruel.
Why did you decide to set “Bright’s Passage” after WWI?
I’ve been interested in it for a long time. I feel like maybe we’ve forgotten about that period of time. But our entire century is shaped by that war. It’s this ghost at the edge of our modern American history.
» Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Thu., 7 p.m., free; 202-364-1919, Politics-prose.com. (Van Ness)
Written by Express contributor Stephen M. Deusner
Photo by Marcelo Biglia