August 20, 2013 – This summer, Bronx Community College Art Department Deputy Chair and Digital Arts Curriculum Coordinator Lisa Amowitz has instantly become the envy of struggling
writers everywhere with the official publication of her first book – Breaking Glass, a novel aimed at young adult readers who have devoured dark thrillers tinged with suggestions of the supernatural (think Twilight and its parade of sequels), which USA Today calls “an impressive debut.” The July 9th publication date marked the culmination of a journey that according to Amowitz can be traced to two beginnings: Bronx Community College and Harry Potter.
It was nine years ago that Amowitz, a Riverdale resident whose ties to BCC go back to 1991, received a grant from the CUNY Research Foundation to author a children’s picture book, a project in which her words were the accompaniment to her artwork. “The fact that I was reading Harry Potter to my daughter every night got me really into it.” The finished product found no takers – but that didn’t stop Amowitz from pursuing her now awakened muse. “I realized after having written this whole thing that, number one, I was completely hooked on writing – not just writing for illustration but actually writing – and number two, I had no idea what I was doing.”
The years that followed were a study in just the sort of persistence – striving for success, learning from failure – which Amowitz seeks to instill in her students. She studied the market, switched to the more promising genre of young adult fiction, developed a circle of similarly aspiring authors on the Internet who offered constructive criticism and emotional support, went through several agents – and most important, she kept on writing. One, two three more books poured out of her imagination. Though they never made it to the printing press, they honed her talents and brought her ever closer to her goal of publication.
The fifth time was the charm – in 2012, Amowitz signed a book deal with emerging publisher Spencer Hill Press for Breaking Glass, a psychological thriller about an alcoholic high school student recovering from an accident who perhaps is or perhaps isn’t being haunted by a girl who may or may not be dead. The work is being hailed by readers across the Internet, where Amowitz has become the frequent subject of interviews.
Amowitz was also given the chance to design the cover of her novel (she holds a BFA in illustration from Carnegie-Mellon University and an MFA in painting from BCC’s CUNY sibling, Lehman College). The results so impressed her publishers that they have gone on to commission Amowitz to design ten covers for books by some of their other authors – as well as the cover for her own next novel, Visions, already scheduled for publication next year. She has even redesigned the Spencer Hill Press logo. Now writers from other imprints, including bestselling young adult author Barry Lyga, are asking for an original Amowitz to illustrate the essence of their novels.
And so the pursuit of her second career has brought Lisa Amowitz back to her first. Ironically, when Amowitz teaches her art students, one of their assignments is to design a book cover. Now she applies the same principles she teaches to her own work – and uses that work to teach those principles to her students, who are described by Amowitz as her “toughest audience – they’re tougher than the publisher.”
“To me, it’s all come weirdly full circle,” Amowitz ponders. “I used to feel it was all separate – there was writing, there was teaching, there was my design work. Now I feel it’s all of a piece.”
Whatever happens next in the eclectic career of this latest Bronx Community College star, on one point Amowitz is adamant: “If I became a best-selling author, I still wouldn’t quit teaching here – because I think I would lose a part of my soul.”