George Foy

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Template:Use mdy dates George Michelsen Foy (also known as Georges Foy and G.F. Michelsen) is a French-American novelist, essayist, and magazine journalist, and professor of creative writing.[1] Born in New England in 1962, he has published a dozen novels since the late 1980s, half under his own name and several more under the nom de plume G.F. Michelsen. Until February 2010, the author kept secret the Michelsen persona's real identity.


As a professor of creative writing at NYU, Foy/Michelsen earns his living in part by explaining fiction's "rules" to his students; as a novelist, apparently, he knows how to break them. In an essay about literary theory (writing as Georges Michelsen), he notes that when he edited The Art and Practice of Explosion,[2] the book seemed to him to come to a different conclusion from what he’d intended while writing it: specifically, a character he'd thought responsible for a secret betrayal turned out to be innocent. The novel had assumed, as the cliché has it, a will of its own.

The essay encapsulates Foy/Michelsen's literary theory: “I hold a belief that every novel constitutes a story-world, built by the author in collaboration with the reader. . . . Much of the thrill of reading comes from the fact that a well made story-world . . . is as uncontrollable as Frankenstein’s creation. It’s an unguided missile, an independent tool. It will and must work in ways its author cannot control.”[3]

Foy’s essays, reviews, and criticism have appeared in Harper's Magazine,[4] Rolling Stone, Poets & Writers, Men's Journal, and other first-tier publications; The Washington Square Review, Notre Dame Review and American Literary Review,[5] among others, have published his short fiction. He has been teaching advanced creative writing at New York University since 1998.

A non-fiction work, "Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence," under the compound name George Michelsen Foy, was published by Scribner/Simon & Schuster in May 2010.[6] Another non-fiction work under the same name, Finding North: How Navigation Makes Us Human, was published by Flatiron Press[7] in late 2015. A nonfiction work, Music in Stone: Sculpture Gardens of the World, was published in 1986 by Scala Press.

Use of pseudonyms

According to an essay on pseudonyms in Poets & Writers, Foy (writing as Michelsen) believes that one reason an author opts for a secret literary personality has to do with preserving artistic freedom against a publishing establishment that seeks to pigeonhole the artist for commercial reasons.[8] Foy/Michelsen apparently struggled from the late 1990s on to keep his dual literary identity hidden. However, a press release from UPNE revealed the stratagem.[9] In fact, the evidence has been present since 1992 for anyone who compares jacket photos from Foy's earliest novels (Asia Rip, for example) with photos on the Michelsen books. These clearly show Michelsen and Foy to be the same person.


The Michelsen novels address corporate and political trends in the here and now. Hard Bottom describes the struggles of a commercial fisherman on Cape Cod whose landscape and livelihood are being wiped out by policies beyond his control. To Sleep With Ghosts concerns corruption and poverty in Mutara Old Harbor, a rundown port in the African Great Lakes region; a novel published in French in 2016, 'Enquête sur Kamanzi,' follows a French war correspondent as he tries to find an African friend during the Congolese civil war (Foy specialized in African politics at London School of Economics). Mettle’s flawed hero captains an oceangoing freighter whose crew is breaking up under pressure from their corporate bosses, while a flaw in its steel threatens the structure of the ship itself.

The Michelsen books are, however, far less political fictions than classic quest novels. Foy's subjects seek personal integrity, harmony with nature, and—whether they’re PhD-level scientists or blue-collar laborers—a hint of what human consciousness is all about. Like the fantasy novels, they probe at the interaction between memory and perception and between moral choice and organic compulsion.


According to his books' biographies, Foy has worked as an underground laborer, a factory hand, and "chief cream puff transporter in a cookie factory." He has also been a commercial fisherman in New England and an officer on British merchant marine ships. Reviewers have noted the verisimilitude in his seafaring scenes as well as in portraits of his native Cape Cod. According to some reviewers, at least, this realism constitutes one of the pleasures of reading his fiction.

While the Michelsen novels are best described as literary fiction, the Foy books are futuristic adventures that commentators have described as belonging to the "cyberpunk" school. They are not, however, light reading, and it is difficult to call them "genre." Foy earned a BS from LSE and worked at Business Week during the 1990s; his last three fantasy titles extrapolate from contemporary global economic conditions. They "[posit] two main ideas:

  1. that the world has been taken over by huge business and governmental organizations that are actual, living, breathing life-forms; and
  2. that the only way to escape becoming slaves to these life-forms is to construct a web of ‘nodes,’ black-market communities that espouse no official rules but aim to achieve a barter economy independent of the ‘Megorg’ dominating most of the rest of the world."[10] The protagonists of these novels are smugglers, anarchists, artists, or some combination of the three.

Cultural phenomena get fast-forwarded just to the point of satire. Reviewing Contraband on, Victoria Strauss wrote: “Commercials hawk earwax deodorant; graves are equipped with video so the dead don’t miss their favorite shows; people suffer from TeleDysFunction, a serotonin imbalance triggered by overexposure to electronic media."[11] The TDF sufferers whom Foy invented in 1998 stagger through the novel, hung head to foot with telecom devices and unable to interact directly with other people – nicely prefiguring today’s smartphone and iPod addicts. But Foy makes clear that these distractions exist to mask real pain. Explaining a mutual friend's existential depression, one character says to another: “We are failed spacemen. That’s what’s wrong. . . . We’ve lost the earth, and we can’t reach anything else. Wouldn’t you be unhappy?”


Foy received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in literature in 1994–95. The Art and Practice of Explosion received honorary mention in ForeWord magazine's Best Novel of the Year competition in 2004. The Shift was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award in literary science fiction in 1997.


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As Michelsen
  • Michelsen, G. F. (1992). To sleep with ghosts : a novel of Africa. Bantam Books. 
  • Blues for Nansen (Schneekluth Verlag, 1993)
  • Hard Bottom (UPNE, 2001)
  • The Art and Practice of Explosion (UPNE, 2003)
  • Mettle (University Press of New England, 2007)
As George Foy
  • Asia Rip (Viking Press, 1984)
  • Coaster (Viking Press, 1986)
  • Challenge (Viking Press, 1988)
  • The Shift (Bantam Doubleday, 1996)
  • Contraband (Bantam Doubleday, 1998)
  • The Memory of Fire (Bantam Doubleday, 2000)
  • Last Harbor (Bantam Doubleday, 2001)
  • Zero Decibels (Simon & Schuster, 2010)
  • Finding North (Flatiron Books, 2015)

Critical studies and reviews of Foy's work


  1. Michelsen Foy, George. "website". homestead. 
  2. n/a, n/a. "Art & Practice of Explosion". Kirkus Reviews. 
  3. “The Secret in the Novel” by Georges Michelsen,, June 2005
  4. Michelsen Foy, George. "Burning Olivier". Harper's Magazine. 
  5. n/a, n/a. "GM FOY – FIVE ESSAYS". Univ. of N. Texas. 
  6. "Zero Decibels". April 19, 2014. 
  7. "About Flatiron Books". 
  8. "Pseudonyms" by G.F. Michelsen, Poets & Writers, February 1992
  9. (3) University Press of New England release for Art & Practice of Explosion, spring 2002
  10. "Let Me Explain Certain Things" by George Foy,, 2000
  11. Contraband: A review by Victoria Strauss,, 1999

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