2009 Pulitzer Prize winner Strout tells students sense of place is "huge"

Elizabeth Strout

Rhea Becker
April 16, 2010

Small towns and the people who populate them are the stock-in-trade of Elizabeth Strout's fiction. The author of Olive Kitteridge – which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction – and two other novels came to campus April 15 to give a reading and a Q&A.

"I've always had a low-boiling nostalgia for small towns," said Strout, who grew up in small New England towns but has lived in – and "loved" -- New York City for the past 25 years.

During the Q&A, Strout discussed her award-winning novel as well as her writing process for an audience made up primarily of Writing, Literature and Publishing students and faculty.

The main character, Olive Kitteridge, is a cantankerous retired high-school teacher living in the tiny fictitious town of Crosby, Maine. She figures in each of the stories that make up Olive Kitteridge, which is a novel told in stories.

"The sense of place was huge – almost as significant as Olive," said Strout. "The town became the petri dish out of which Olive sprung."

Audience members were curious about the unusual format of the book. Strout explained, "I always understood that Olive was too much to [treat] in a traditional, linear kind of way. She was more of an episodic type of fictional experience."

Strout performed guest-editor duties for the Spring 2010 issue of the Emerson-based literary journal Ploughshares.

The Atlantic Monthly praised Strout as "the possessor of an irresistibly companionable, peculiarly American voice: folksy, poetic, but always as precise as a shadow on a brilliant winter day." Her two previous novels, Abide with Me and Amy and Isabelle, were both New York Times bestsellers. She has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, Orange Prize, and National Book Critics Circle Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Redbook, and other publications. Born and raised in New England, Strout now teaches in a low-residency writing program in Charlotte, N.C.

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