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In the Reading Room: Louis Bayard

Researching The School of Night


Louis Bayard

When novelist Louis Bayard decided to write The School of Night (published March 2011), he was able to do most of his research just a few blocks from his Capitol Hill home at the Folger.

Working with library staff, Bayard explored the world of book collecting as well as aspects of life in early modern England.


“It’s interesting to see what motivates people to collect these things and how they go to great lengths to get this material,” he explains. “I learned about the process of how Elizabethan documents were made, and the different types of hand, and who would have used what. They were so stingy with paper and it was limited in supply, so they would write letters on the back of a tradesman’s bill or something. And so the idea that something on the back of a piece of paper might be more interesting than what’s on the front became important.”


The Folger itself appears as a character in The School of Night, which Bayard describes as "a combination of a modern-day treasure hunt set in Washington, DC, and London with a Tudor-era mystery ... both stories concern a group called the School of Night, a group of Elizabethan scholars rumored to dabble in the dark arts.”


“It’s wonderful to just be staring at all these original documents. I’m not a professional historian, but I understand the thrill that one would have when looking at these things,” he says.


See Folger collection materials used in Bayard's research


With his three most recent novels, The Black Tower, The Pale Blue Eye, and Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard, in the words of the Washington Post, has ascended to "the upper reaches of the historical-thriller league."


A New York Times Notable author, he has been nominated for both the Edgar and Dagger awards and has been named one of People magazine's top authors of the year.


Bayard is also a nationally recognized essayist and critic whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Salon, Ms., Nerve.com, and Preservation.


His other novels include Fool's Errand and Endangered Species. He is a contributor to the anthologies The Worst Noël, Maybe Baby, and 101 Damnations.


Folger Magazine

In the Reading Room
with Louis Bayard

Inside the Collection

Researching The School of Night

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