Temple professor’s novel sheds light on Philadelphia’s opioid crisis

Liz Moore’s ‘Long Bright River’ has received notable media attention for its tale about Kensington.

Liz Moore, an English professor, showcases her new book "Long Bright River" in her office in Anderson Hall on Feb. 10. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Liz Moore’s new novel, “Long Bright River,” was already a national success before it hit bookshelves, becoming a New York Times bestseller, getting praised by The Washington Post, and being selected as a book club pick for Good Morning America. 

Following the book’s release, the crew of Good Morning America visited Moore, a Temple University English professor, in Philadelphia and aired a video of her taking a reporter for a ride around Kensington, Philadelphia, where the story is set.

“Long Bright River,” Moore’s fourth novel, was published in the United States on Jan. 7 and will be translated to 15 languages, she said. Besides cities along the east coast, the book tour has taken Moore to the United Kingdom and Ireland so far. In the coming months, she will travel to California, Florida and Italy.

The story follows two sisters living in and around the Kensington area and confronts the opioid crisis from two different angles. While Kacey funds her addiction with sex work, her older sister, Mickey, is a police officer surveilling the same area. The novel starts with a series of homicides in Kensington and Kacey going missing.

“I liked the idea of two sisters coming from the same family but being as opposite as one can imagine,” Moore said. “That is a good way, I think, to drive a plot forward.”

The dynamic of sisterhood is familiar to Moore, who has a younger sister, especially when it comes to protectiveness, she said. Her sister is training to become a doctor and is much different from both Mickey and Kacey, Moore added, so only the close relationship between the sisters is autobiographical.

Liz Moore, an English professor, autographs her new book “Long Bright River” in her office in Anderson Hall on Feb. 10. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Two sources inspired “Long Bright River,” Moore said — her family and Kensington itself.

“My own family has a history of addiction and I don’t typically say more than that about it because most of the stories are not mine to tell,” Moore said.

Originally from Framingham, Massachusetts, Moore moved to Philadelphia in 2009. The same year, she started to accompany photographer Jeffrey Stockbridge on his ventures to Kensington to conduct interviews about opioid addiction. 

Soon she began returning on her own, doing community work, helping at a women’s shelter and holding writing workshops for residents, she said.

“Obviously it has a higher crime rate than some of the areas adjacent to it and you can’t deny that but I always had very positive experiences going there,” Moore said.

Moore published a couple of essays about her time in Kensington, which included characters who appear in her current novel, but did not return to writing the actual book until 2015.

“I learned a lot of their stories and I found myself very moved by what they were telling me,” Moore said. “The opioid crisis was not getting nearly as much coverage at the time as it is now in the media and Kensington was not getting much coverage either.”

Lucas Iberico Lozada, a 2019 MFA alumnus and Moore’s former student, said Moore always created a class environment where students felt supported.

“The feedback [Moore] gave me on one of my short stories helped me get published,” Iberico Lozada said. “This is directly attributed to [Moore].”

Iberico Lozada said Moore often asked the class what they were reading to spark interesting conversations. She mentioned her then-upcoming book a few times as well which prompted him to read it, he added.

“I stayed up very late one night, until 2 a.m.,” he said. “I just couldn’t put it down, I read the whole thing.”

Sarah McGrath, editor in chief at Riverhead Books and publisher of “Long Bright River,” said she instantly loved the balance of family, mystery and research into the opioid crisis in the book. She hopes to work with Moore in the future, she said.

“I never start working with a new writer unless I want to help them develop their career,” McGrath said. “[Moore] is a beautiful, clean literary writer.”

Although busy touring with her current release, Moore is already thinking about her next book. 

“I usually have something started on another novel before a novel comes out because I like to have something to return to when a book tour is over,” Moore said. “I don’t know yet enough about it to really talk about it but it’s there waiting for me.”

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