Elizabeth Strout: How Her Imagination as a Child Has Steered Her Writing Career
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Elizabeth Strout about her new novel, Lucy by the Sea.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: On First Draft we talk so much empathy, and that writing is really an act of empathy and an exercise in what it means to be human. I’m wondering if you could share more about how you developed that as a person. I don’t know if you were a really inquisitive child, if you tried to picture what it was like to be other people or in other people’s shoes?
Elizabeth Strout: Yeah, you know, I think honestly, this is my earliest memory, or not probably my earliest memory, but from way, way back in childhood, I have always wondered what it was like to be another person. And I can remember being in the car with my mother when my father went into some store and did some business or something, and this woman walked by on the sidewalk, and my mother said, Oh, look at her, she’s depressed. And I said, How do you know? And she said, Well look at her coat. The hem is loose and raggedy.
And so, I looked at it. And I remember honestly, watching that woman and wanting to follow her home. And I remember trying to imagine what it was like when she stepped through the door, what her little hallway might be, like, I wondered if she had pom poms on the shower curtain of her bathroom. I mean, I can remember desperately wanting to know what other people’s lives were like, from way back.
So, it’s something that has always been there. And then as I got older, and I realized, wow, you know, I’m never going to know what it’s like to be another person, you know that conscious understanding that I was only going to be able to see the world through my own eyes was so frustrating for me, because I just want to see so much what it feels like to be in somebody else’s head. And then when I began to read books, I realized, Oh, this is one way that we can possibly go inside somebody else’s head.
Elizabeth Strout is the author of the New York Times bestseller Olive Kitteridge, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the national bestseller Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine and New York City.