Describe your latest project.
I went to see Adam Guettel's musical The Light in the Piazza based on
the Elizabeth Spencer novella when it was playing in Chicago a few years
back. Later, I went to see it in New York, again. (I would like to have
this play as wallpaper in my kitchen, something you could look at every
day.) At the New York production I was sitting next to an enormous woman, a
heavy breather. Although we were strangers to each other, after every song
she turned to me, gripped my arm with her large strong hand, leaned into me,
and breathed, OHMYGOD. Opinions vary about this play but I too am in the
OMYGOD camp. The Chicago production, especially, took my breath away.
Victoria Clark knocked the wind out of me. So, that first time, I went home
and thought, What happens after the action of the play? Every story, so
said someone, can be happy; it all depends at which point the storyteller
ends his narrative. After seeing the play my wish to write a book that
extended The Light in the Piazza story, coupled with my wish to write about a happy marriage, plus write a book that deals with war came together in the mysterious and curious way books come into being.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
The poet Marianne Boruch. I was at a reading of a large number of poets
recently, all fine poets, but there were maybe five good poems in the
evening and possibly one great poem. It's just about impossible, it seems
to me, to write a great poem. Marianne Boruch is the genuine article. Read
Moss Burning. Her essay collections are also lovely and deep.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"I'm going to marry you till you puke."
Lorrie Moore, "Terrific Mother" [found in the collection Birds of America]
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you
Paul Ingrim, one of the world's greatest booksellers, occasionally calls me
up. He works at Prairie Lights in Iowa City. "Jane," he urges in his low
and urgently growly voice, "You have to read The Girls by Lori Lansens."
It is a lovely, funny, insightful and wonderful book. When Paul calls, I
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
When I was growing up, the children's librarian at the Oak Park Public
Library was Mrs. Finch. She was always at the library, as far as I knew,
reading books because she loved them and also because she loved us, her
short patrons. She always knew exactly what I would want to read. She was
different from a parent, a teacher; this was before most children went as a
matter of course to a therapist but perhaps she was quite like a beloved
therapist. She seemed to know me in a way that no one else did. I knew she
understood all the ways in which I was good and also bad, and that she loved
me with unconditional love a love that was augmented with that deep
knowledge she had of me, something my parents naturally did not have. Years,
decades passed. I was doing a reading at a Borders outside of Chicago. A
small, wizened woman approached the desk. "Do you know who I am?"
said she. I couldn't think. I didn't know. There was something familiar
about her, yes, but most persons look familiar to me these days. "I'm Mrs.
Dyllus Finch." I leapt up. "But, but, but..." I blurted foolishly, "I thought
you were dead!" She was quite alive at 94. It was so good to see her, to be
able to tell her that she had been important and dear to me through those
years that at the time seemed as if they would go on and on.