After years of trying to write a memoir, Michael Coffey, the outgoing co-editorial director of Publishers Weekly, realized that fiction was the best way to extend ruminations about what it meant for him to be adopted. “It gave me the freedom to make things up and pursue less the facts of things than the truth of them,” he says. In his first work of fiction, The Business of Naming Things (Bellevue Literary Press, Jan. 2015), Coffey explores the topic of identity in eight short stories. His collection begins with an epigraph from Ulysses that epitomized his personal experience: What’s in a name? That is what we ask ourselves in childhood when we write the name that we are told is ours. Coffey tells Show Daily, “This puts simply what I asked myself for decades. What is my real name?” Indeed, it is the naming of things—who is called what and by whom, and why—that links these stories, he says. “They are all about digging beneath what people are known as to what they are—or wish to be.”

Coffey discovered who his birth parents were a decade ago. Both were deceased, but he connected with their friends and family members to find out more about them. His father came to New York City from Philadelphia. “He was trying to be a poet, driving a cab, and looking for Dylan Thomas. He was also a big James Joyce proselytizer. My mother was trying to make her way as an actress and dancer. She starred in a Broadway play. And they were both very Irish.” Coffey, raised by a corrections officer and a nurse in a upstate New York, had no books to speak of in his house. He went to Notre Dame and spent a year in Dublin. “I fell in love with the Irish writers, Joyce and Yeats. I became the son my birth father might have recognized.” “Finishing Ulysses,” one of the stories in the collection, pays homage to him. “It is a kind of conjuring of his spirit.”

BEA 2014 is also Coffey’s swan song after 26 years at PW. “I couldn’t have dreamed of a better career—working in an office to which publishers send all their books. And then to be appearing at the industry’s annual event tops it all off.”

Coffey is a featured presenter today for BEA Selects, 2–2:30 p.m., at the Uptown Stage, after which he will sign galleys in the Bellevue Literary Press booth (1104B), where his publisher is also giving away a limited edition of coffee mugs, emblazoned “Wake Up and Read the Coffey.”