Ten Quick Questions with… Elizabeth Strout

series of the cover Olive Kitteridge side by side in a repeated pattern
Elizabeth Strout’s had quite a year. Her third work of fiction, Olive Kitteridge, still sits on the paperback bestseller list. Last April, she earned the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This Thursday, she headlines the Ploughshares Reading Series, where she will read one of Olive’s stories (“I often make that decision when I arrive in town”), as well as answer questions and sign books.
In a recent interview for the National Arts Journalism Program, Strout expressed her real reason for agreeing to edit Ploughshares: “Poetry. Obviously, I love the whole thing. But the truth is I love poetry… And I love literary magazines. Literary magazines were my food for so long.”

1. Your desert-island read:

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy.
2. The writer you recommend to all your friends:
Oscar Hijuelos.
3. Your favorite poet:
Theodore Roethke.
4. Your preferred writing method:
By hand.
5. Where do you store your Pulitzer?
At the back of my desk, behind some photos.
6. Have you thought about dabbling in another genre?
I don’t have any desire to publish in a different genre. Writing nonfiction is painful for me, and only done when absolutely necessary. Of course I would love to write poetry, but I do not. I am a fiction writer, a storyteller.
7. Short stories are not always bestsellers. Was Random House committed right away to Olive Kitteridge?
I’m not aware if there was any hesitation on the part of Random House, but I am not a person who inquires into much regarding the publishing process. They accepted the book when it was about a third done, and that was the only thing I needed to know.
8. Frances McDormand has shown interest in an Olive Kitteridge movie. Any updates on the film?
I’ve not heard about any progress, but again, it is my nature not to ask.
9. You wrote much of Olive Kitteridge in a cottage in Provincetown. How has it been writing your newest one in New York City?
I like working in my New York apartment. It’s high up with a great view of the sky. It’s essential to like the space where I’m working. But I interrupt myself far more than I did in that cottage – there I had few opportunities to interrupt myself and it made a difference.
10. When did you first know you were a writer?
I regarded myself as a writer when I was a child. Later, as I was writing Amy and Isabelle and noticed that finally, finally, my ability to do things with the sentence was growing, then I had another moment of thinking: now I am writing like a writer.

It was not publication that ever made me feel like a writer. Publication only made other people think I was a writer. I always knew.

–conducted by Joshua Garstka

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