But, he admits, it wasn’t his idea. A 1984 graduate in sociology, Roth had written three novels in four years without any luck. Finally, someone suggested he write for young adults, an exploding market thanks to the likes of Harry Potter and the Twilight series.
“I started reading some and found some real literary works out there,” he says. “It’s been a fairly hot genre in recent years.”
So Roth put pen to paper once again and wrote a fourth novel—this one recreating the lives of the Romantic poets Lord Byron, John Keats and Percy Shelley, as modern-day Ohio teenagers. The premise caught the eye of an agent and So Shelly soon hit the bookshelves.
The novel’s been a hit so far, not least among his students. “I don’t know if they like it because of it’s quality or because their teacher wrote it, but it’s given me some street cred in the English department,” Roth says.
The idea of using Romantic poets in a novel came to Roth when he found his students more interested in the scandalous biographies of the poets than their poetry. In that regard, So Shelly is a sugar-coated pill to teach the Romantics to a generation for whom, by Roth’s reckoning, “poetry is on life support.”
If there’s any hope in a poetry renaissance for today’s youth, Roth says, the Romantics are a good place to start. “Romanticism is kind of a philosophy for the young,” he says. “There’s a point when you have to cut your hair and go to work.”