Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Novelist Elizabeth Strout Finds Truth In Fiction

Leonardo Cendamo

Novelist Elizabeth Strout may have lived in New York for over two decades, but her roots remain firmly entrenched in her home state of Maine, where her four novels have all been based. Her latest work, The Burgess Boysfocuses on a fractured family being forced to pull together after one of its members breaks the law, and how sibling dynamics can put relatives in their place long after they've moved out. I spoke with the  Pulitzer-prize winner, who will be appearing at the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival on May 9, about artistic integrity, career paths, and how fiction can teach others about real life. 

Strout will appear at the Dowagiac Middle School on May 9.

On how reading fiction teaches humans how to relate to others:
"I'm a real believer in fiction because I do think that life can isolate us in ways we don't even realize is happening, and that we do need access to what it feels like to be another person. But I think that reading fiction isn't just another extracurricular activity. I think it's a serious endeavor for people, and I believe in it and I hope to be contributing to it."
On maintaining artistic integrity once your work is adapted into another medium:
"Before I sell the rights, it's very very important to me who I'm selling the rights to and the kinds of conversation that I have. I also feel as an artist myself that they are also artists. So once I make that decision to sell my rights for them to then take it to do what they as an artist needs to be done, then I'm not gonna interfere. But I'm very conscious of the fact that I'd want to be respected, and I would not want to be told what to do and I'm certainly not going to do that to somebody else - or else I just wouldn't make the decision to sell them the rights."
On being an "astonishingly terrible" lawyer: 
"I have to tell you that I was the worst lawyer that I had ever met in my entire life. I pray that I never have to go back to it.  I was just astonishingly terrible at navigating on someone's behalf, but I have a lot of respect for my legal training. Law school itself was pretty interesting to me. I learned a lot about the system that we live under. There was just so much that I learned that makes me - I think - a much more informed citizen, frankly."
On how she plans to remain inspired as a writer: 
"Well you know life has this wonderful thing of continuing to bring you experience all the time. There's always stuff that goes into the furnace of material to learn from, and to grow from and then also to keep the craft as sharp as I can have it."

Erin Williams was a reporter for WMUK and a producer with Arts & More. She worked for WMUK in 2014.