Pulitzer goes to Elizabeth Strout, former L.A. Times book award winner

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Elizabeth Strout has won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, it was announced today, for her book ‘Olive Kitteridge.’ Set in rural Maine, the book is woven from short stories in which Kitteridge, a strong-willed seventh-grade teacher, appears.

It is Strout’s third novel. Her debut, ‘Amy and Isabelle,’ won the 1999 L.A. Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. In 2008, she talked to the online magazine Failbetter about what it meant to receive that kind of recognition.


The attention that ‘Amy and Isabelle’ received was something I tried very hard to avoid noticing, which sounds ridiculous. But what I mean by this is that it was overwhelming to have worked for so many years in a rather furtive state; very few people knew that I was, and had been for most of my life, devoted to the business of fiction writing. ... Being an author is different from being a writer, and I was not necessarily prepared for some of the public duties required of an author. So the anxiety of that was distracting, yes. It did not change my work habits — I have always worked as steadily and deeply as possible, and this continues to be true.

In her writing life, Strout has stayed on course. Her second novel, ‘Abide With Me,’ became a bestseller. After ‘Olive Kitteridge’ was published, she spoke to Robert Birnbaum for the Morning News about the titular character.

In a certain way, no, I don’t have a stake in whether people like Olive. Some people have told me they absolutely love her, and some people have said they can’t stand her but they’re still very drawn to the book. And so I don’t have a stake in their reaction to Olive, I have a stake in their reaction to the book. I hope that even if they have a negative response to much of Olive’s behavior, they are maybe still drawn into this humanity that is underneath all of her action[s]. ...

It is a haunting experience. It’s a strange experience. And I’ve though about this with each of my books, because they, in a huge way, do occupy me [within] my mind, and when I’m not writing about them I’m mulling over who they are and what they might do. And I live with them and love them for long periods of time and then they’re done, and I sort of can’t imagine they ever will be done, but then they are. And so far, luckily, there’s been another emergence of something else.

The two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction were also announced today: Louise Erdrich for ‘The Plague of Doves’ and ‘All Souls’ by Christine Schutt.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Random House