A message from Lauren:
Thank you very much for being a part of the Amherst Alumni book group discussion of The Monsters of Templeton. This is especially exciting for me because my novel has roots in Amherst: my main character, Willie Upton, attends the college as an undergraduate, and the idea to write this novel dawned on me for the first time during my first creative writing workshop as a sophomore (though it took a few more years for me to gain the courage to tackle writing the book). I couldn't imagine a group of readers more attentive or thoughtful than Amherst Alumni, and I can only hope that we have a discussion that will bring back those long afternoon English literature seminars in Johnson Chapel, when we were kindled and delighted by the roiling conversation about whatever disparate texts--from The Moonstone to The Wasteland to Things Fall Apart--that we were reading at the time.
The Monsters of Templeton is my love-song for Cooperstown, New York, where I was born and raised. Cooperstown is a marvelous place of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants, but wildly outsized in the history of America. We have the Baseball Hall of Fame there, a world-class opera, spectacular natural beauty, and James Fenimore Cooper, our native son. We are also rich in history and legend--for instance that there's a monster in our deep, glacial lake--and when I set out to write the novel, I wanted to wrap up everything I knew or thought I knew about my town and give it to the reader to keep. And so my book was born, spanning 200 years of Cooperstown's history, bringing in Fenimore Cooper's own characters, and in the process turning Cooperstown into Templeton, my utterly fictional version of the town, a version that I hoped would strive toward an emotional truth about the place.
I do hope you enjoy the book--but, if enjoyment is too much to hope for, I hope that it gives you some fodder to think about.
I am always happy to discuss my novel with readers, or for that matter, Amherst, writing in general, or any other topic that comes up, so please do feel free to weigh in here--or contact me directly at email@example.com, if you'd prefer.
Thank you very much, and have a splendid December.
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Date of Birth
July 23, 1978
Place of Birth
Amherst College, '01
University of Wisconsin-Madison, MFA in Fiction, '06
Axton Fellow in Fiction, '06-'07
Amherst College Major
French and English
Favorite Amherst College Class
It's a toss-up between four: my senior thesis project with Professor Andy Parker (I took a half-creative, half-critical look at the crossroads where fact and fiction meet in autobiography), Professor Paul Rockwell's survey of Medieval French Literature, Professor Leah Hewitt's survey of Afro-Caribbean literature in French, and Professor Judy Frank's creative writing class--my first fiction workshop (which I survived mainly thanks to her grace and kindness).
Favorite Amherst College Professor
I have too many favorites to choose just one.
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
I knew I wanted a small liberal arts college and was actually supposed to go to another NESCAC school (I'm not telling which) when I took a year off to be a Rotary Exchange Scholar to Nantes, France. While there, I had the slow and sinking realization that I'd chosen the wrong school for me--I kept remembering my trip to Amherst and how it seemed to perfectly dovetail into what I wanted from a school--and I especially liked the Five-College system, which meant that I could still have the small liberal arts experience, but when I felt a little claustrophobic I could take a class at another school and expand Amherst's "golden bubble" overnight. So I applied and, to my great relief, got in--I remember celebrating with some nice French champagne.
Awards and Prizes
Pushcart Prize; Axton Fellowship in Fiction; Pleasant T. Rowland fellowship; Peter Burnett Howe Prize (Amherst College); August Derleth Prize (UW-Madison); shortlisted for the Orange Prize for new writers; inclusion in the Best American Short Stories and Best New American Writers anthologies; fellowships at Yaddo, Ragdale and the Vermont Studio Center
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Tips for aspiring writers?
l'd say about eighty percent of humanity has the natural capacity to be a writer in some degree or discipline, provided the right education and access to the best books or libraries. I have taught writing, and you can teach someone about an Oxford comma or a clerihew, how to create tension in a story, or how to adhere to journalistic principles. What you can't teach is the vital spark that turns a reader into a writer: that's the natural winnowing process that turns the eighty percent into a .08 percent. I'd tell an aspiring writer to look within herself to see if she has that spark, if she would give up nearly everything to get the chance to write. If so, she should go for it with all her might. If not, she should try to cultivate that fire. Read and write and feel delighted that every day is another chance to practice what you love.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author
I've been a big reader all my life, and I always wanted to be a writer: I once thought being a writer meant serious spectacles and vast mahogany desks and rooms walled with books and a summer cottage in the Cotswalds with cows lowing out the window. The reality is that I only dabbled at writing from the time I was little to the time I went to college, when I woke up one day and realized that I wasn't Rilke. It's hard work like any other craft: plumbers don't become plumbers by reading about pipes, and writers don't write by only reading and dreaming about the books we'd one day write. I took a workshop in college, and fell in love with short stories; I worked a thousand terrible jobs after college to pay the bills while I wrote; at last, I went to graduate school and went all-out for two years, breathing, eating, and drinking only fiction. I finished my novel shortly after graduating and was lucky to sell it almost immediately, to my immense delight and even more immense confusion. Apparently, at last, I'd become an author without any of the accoutrements (save the serious spectacles) that I'd always imagined "being a writer" to entail. One day, I hope for the rest. Especially the cows.
Additional Information About the Author
Lauren Groff was born in 1978 in Cooperstown, N.Y., and grew up one block from the Baseball Hall of Fame. She graduated from Amherst College and has an MFA in fiction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of journals, including The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, One Story, and Five Points, as well as in the anthologies Best American Short Stories 2007, Pushcart Prize XXXII, and Best New American Voices 2008. Her first novel is The Monsters of Templeton, and in January she will publish a short story collection titled Delicate Edible Birds. She lives in Gainesville, Florida, with her husband, Clay Kallman ('00), and her son, Beckett (potential class of 2030). You can find out more at www.laurengroff.com.