This UW-Madison grad went from a relative literary unknown to a best-selling novelist.

Good ideas come to Chloe Benjamin only once every few years, she says. That’s why she doesn’t write short stories.

In 2015, Benjamin was working as an executive assistant at Domestic Abuse Intervention Services in Madison. The San Francisco native felt fulfilled doing the nonprofit work, but it wasn’t a “dream,” she says. “I was working a day job, like most writers, and never thought I would not be doing that.”

Earning a paycheck four days a week, she spent her weekend mornings in coffee shops typing what would become her breakout sophomore novel: The Immortalists, a tale of “What if” you knew the day you would die.

Her first book, The Anatomy of Dreams, exists in a niche for Freudian psychology nerds or people still obsessing over Christopher Nolan’s Inception. But practically every reader could connect with the inevitability of death so plainly pondered by The Immortalists.

That’s why she thinks it’s sold so well – that, and “the immense amount of support” from publisher Penguin Books. The Immortalists became an instant New York Times bestseller (as of press time, the book was still one of the NYT’s top 10 best-selling paperbacks), landed on NPR’s Best Books of 2018 list, and got Benjamin interviewed on “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”

“I have no idea if I’ll ever have another book that has this sort of reach. I hope I will,” says Benjamin, who still lives in Madison. “I don’t want to be somebody who just had ‘that one book.’”

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After a year packed with public readings and press interviews – to which MilMag has now admittedly contributed; sorry, Chloe – Benjamin feels a little burned out.

But she’s still inching toward completing her third novel. The premise of book No. 3 is still a secret. Hopefully we’ll find out soon.


“Local talent: Chloe Benjamin” appears in the June 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning June 3, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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