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Pulitzer Prize Winner Elizabeth Strout Reflects On Writing
 

April 28, 2009     Reported By: Tom Porter

Author Elizabeth Strout is still digesting the fact that she's been awarded one of literature's most prestigious prizes. A Bates college graduate who grew up in Maine and New Hampshire, Strout last week won the Pulitzer prize for fiction for her third novel. Set in a fictional town on the Maine coast, "Olive Kitteridge" tells the story of a gruff, elderly schoolteacher. Rather than being a conventional novel, the eponymous heroine's story is told through a series of connected stories. Speaking from her home in New York, Strout says while winning the prize is a tremendous honor, she's a little uncomfortable with being in the limelight.

April 28, 2009     Reported By: Tom Porter

Author Elizabeth Strout is still digesting the fact that she's been awarded one of literature's most prestigious prizes. A Bates college graduate who grew up in Maine and New Hampshire, Strout last week won the Pulitzer prize for fiction for her third novel. Set in a fictional town on the Maine coast, "Olive Kitteridge" tells the story of a gruff, elderly schoolteacher. Rather than being a conventional novel, the eponymous heroine's story is told through a series of connected stories. Speaking from her home in New York, Strout says while winning the prize is a tremendous honor, she's a little uncomfortable with being in the limelight.



Elizabeth Strout:  "It's certainly wonderdul to get this prize, I'm just thrilled about it. But I'm a rather private person."

Tom Porter:  "You did say that being an author and being a writer are fairly separate things. Can you explain what you mean by that?"

ES:  "Well the writing - which is what I am, I'm a writer, that's how I think of myself and how I spend most of my life doing - that's a very private and solitary kind of job.  And even though I'm always writing for a reader, it's a relationship, I'm always imagining a certain kind of ideal reader than I'm writing for, at the same time I do it alone and with quietness and in solitary. And to be an author is a public job."

TP: "The book you won the prize for, Olive Kitteridge, is set in a mythical town on the Maine coast - Crosby. All your books have been set in New England, two of them in Maine. Is there something about the New England character and setting that appeals to you as a novelist?"

ES: "Yes in the sense that I grew up here in New England, in New Hampshire and Maine, and my parents on both sides were from long lines of Maine. It's been very familiar to me. When I first moved to New York for a long time I didn't even realize that I was from New England in the sense that that meant anything. I just didn't understand that literature is place, or it used to be place, or that place is very important. And so it was really I moved to New York that I began to realize that I am from a partcular kind of New England background. New Yorkers think that Connecticut is the same as Maine, and of course people in New England know that there's a huge difference between even Maine and New Hampshire and Vermont. So I began to realize that that part of my background was in fact very strong so I began to eventually write that and worked my way through three books of it."
 
TP: "Your first book, "Amy and Isabelle" took you six or seven years to write, how long has it taken to write Olive Kitteridge? Are you getting faster?"

ES: "I am gettting faster, I think. Some stories in Olive took me quite a long time but others did come faster. I've learned a lot about writing as I continue to do it, even though I've been doing it all my life."

TP: "You use the form of, not short stories, but not exactly a flowing novel in the sense that it's a number of self-contained chapters. Why did you choose that form?"

ES: "That was intuitive immediately. I sought of understood right away, when I wrote the first Olive story and pictured her, I understood that she would have a book to herself. And I just pictured it as episodically told, not in the more traditional form. And I think when I look back on it that that sort of intuition comes from a sense that she's quite a force to deal with and maybe the reader wouldn't want to deal with her as often as one sees the protagonist of a more traditional novel, and the reader would need to pick their head up and look someplace else."

TP: "So you could read one chapter and then go and read another and then come back."

ES: "Yes, or read about another character in a different chapter and see her from a different point of view, and of course point of view has always interested me as well."

TP: "The main character Olive, she's getting on a bit in years, she's a grumpy schoolteacher. I noticed in your background you've done other stuff - you trained as a lawyer at one point. You also studied gerontology, the effects of aging - that must have yieled some pretty useful background when writing this book don't you think?"

ES: "Yes it's interesting because that was quite some time ago that I studied that. You know I grew up with many many elderly relatives nearby, in a very rural setting in Maine, and lots of elderly relatives that would be sitting around deciding who was going to be the first to die, and that sort of pastime, and I think my interets in gerontology stemmed from that, and also Olive kind of stemmed from having been surrounded with that from an early age. And then growing and seeing it through adult eyes, and understanding more deeply what it means to lose things."

Bates college graduate Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge, is published by Random House.
 

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