New York City
Place of birth:
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Phillips Exeter Academy; Amherst College, B.A., double major English/Spanish; Columbia University, MFA in Fiction.
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
I was interested in English and Political Science, and I knew those departments were excellent at Amherst. I loved the small size of the college and the student-teacher ratios, but I also liked the idea of the five-college system; I took several classes at Mount Holyoke and UMass. Amherst had only recently gone co-ed, so the pioneering aspect of being in one of the first classes that accepted women intrigued me.
Most memorable or most influential class(es) at Amherst and most memorable or most influential professor(s) at Amherst:
Prof. Ben DeMott's Shakespeare class; Prof. Jim Maraniss's class on Cervantes' Don Quixote; Prof. Margie Waller's class on Dante's Commedia; Prof. G. Armour Craig's class on James Joyce's Ulysses; Prof. Carol Kay's class on 18th century British literature; and classes taught by Prof. Elizabeth Bruss, Prof. Austin Sarat and Prof. William Taubman.
Since beginning to work on The Tutor and for the next four novels I want to write: Shakespeare and Elizabethan culture, literature, politics and religion.
Awards and Prizes:
In December, 2014, Ingram, the largest book distributor in the world, selected my novel The Tutor was chosen for the Imgram Premier Pick, which meant they bought 200 advanced copies and sent them to libraries across the country.
The Tutor was awarded the 2015-2016 Florida Literary Arts Coalition Writers Circuit Prose Award. For one week in fall 2015 and one week in spring 2016, I will tour a total of eight colleges and universities in Florida giving readings and visiting classrooms.
Finalist, Red Bull Short New Play Festival, 2015, for "Venus & Adonis" a ten-minute stage adaptation of scenes from my novel The Tutor.
I have many favorite books, but Middlemarch is always at the top. I've read it three times, roughly every decade since my twenties, and I'm due for another read now. My reading of Middlemarch changes as I age. Each time I read it I underline parts that stand out to me with a different color pen, so now I have red, green and blue underlines in my old beat-up paperback. I wonder what color I'll use next? Maybe purple.
William Shakespeare, of course. Edward Albee, Jane Austen, Balzac, John Banville, Kay Boyle, A.S. Byatt, Joan Chase, Chekhov, Julio Cortazar, Theodore Dreiser, Marguerite Duras, George Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, Penelope Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ford Maddox Ford, E.M. Forster, John Fowles, Natalia Ginzburg, Shirley Hazzard, Janet Hobhouse, Henry James, Katherine Mansfield, Ian McEwan, Mary McCarthy, Elsa Morante, Toni Morrison, Edna O'Brien, Flannery O'Connor, Harold Pinter, Katherine Anne Porter, Jean Rhys, Marilynne Robinson, Nathalie Sarraute, Shendhal, Jane Smiley, Gilbert Sorrentino, Jean Stafford, Christina Stead, Tom Stoppard, Leo Tolstoy, William Trevor, Eudora Welty, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Marguerite Yourcenar... And that's only the beginning of my list!
Tips for aspiring writers:
Read always--the only way to learn is from others! Do not write in a vacuum. It's important to put in the time alone at your desk, but it is also essential to get your work out there--whether it's a writers group or a class or sending it out to publications. Part of the experience of "getting it out there" is learning how to take criticism, learning how to "hear" it constructively, so that you know what to accept and incorporate into your work and what to discard. If you feel stuck, don't be afraid to experiment with voice, tense, point-of-view, narrative structure and language.
Stop talking about how you're going to write--sit down and do it! Because the real learning starts when you commit yourself to putting the words down on the page.
For writing novels--get through the first draft before you start extensive rewriting and revising. It's hard to know what that first chapter or those first several chapters need to be until you've gotten to the end of your story. I remember I wrote a novel in graduate school, and years later I looked at all the drafts of the first chapter I'd labored over--draft after draft after draft where I tried to incorporate all the comments from my workshops and all my neurotic insecurities about a word or a sentence or tense (past or past perfect, etc.). I think I wrote at least twenty drafts of that first chapter. When I looked at them again, years later, I realized they were all pretty much the same and that I'd been like a cat licking the same patch of fur over and over again. I could have written a draft of the whole book in the time that it took be to rewrite that first chapter so many times.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author:
My first "novel" was a mystery called, The Mystery of the Green Glass. I wrote it in third grade, long hand, on thick yellow paper with a thick pencil. I wish I had that copy now! My third grade teacher launched a literary magazine for her students to publish poems, short stories and art. This was before computers were ever used in schools; we painstakingly wrote and drew everything on mimeograph paper and then printed out copies on the mimeograph machine in the school office. I started my mystery "novel" for that magazine, and then I just kept on going. I remember the satisfaction I felt as the stack of yellow paper grew on my desk. A few years later, my stories became more personal: I'd sit on the basement stairs of our house, in the dark, and in my head I'd write very autobiographical accounts of all the dysfunctional things that were going on with my family. Decades later, after I'd published journalism and a few short stories, it was returning to my autobiographical voice that truly enabled me to find my voice and to launch my career--first publishing memoir pieces and personal essays and then moving on to fiction.