Literary Hub

Meet National Book Award Finalist Lauren Groff

The 2018 National Book Awards will be held on Wednesday, November 14 at the 69th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. In preparation for the ceremony, and to celebrate all of the wonderful books and authors nominated for the awards this year, Literary Hub will be sharing short interviews with each of the finalists in all five categories: Young People’s Literature, Translated Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction.

Lauren Groff’s Florida, a collection of eleven stories set in the Sunshine state that Christine Schutt described as “full of event and surprise, instruction and comfort. . . .  restorative fiction for these urgent times,” is a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Fiction. Literary Hub asked Groff a few questions about her book and her writing life.

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Who was the first person you told about making this list?

My dog Olive is not a person, but she heard about it first because my husband didn’t answer the phone. She yawned and went back to sleep; he eventually called back.

What time of day do you write (and why)?

I love to start before dawn, when it’s still dark out and I can feel as though the tissue between my dreams and reality is so thin it’s barely there. Other humans’ voices infect my work, so I like to be awake before anyone else is.

How do you tackle writer’s block?

I don’t feel writer’s block because I tend to work on multiple projects and go where the heat is on any given day. But also because I think fallow times are extremely helpful and enriching, and when I can’t write, I can usually read, or think, or go for long walks, or take a nap, and all of those things I consider writing, if I’m doing them with intention.

Which non-literary piece of culture—film, tv show, painting, song—could you not imagine your life without?

I’m not embarrassed, at all, to say that my alarm is set for Christine and the Queens’ song “Tilted.” It makes me get up already dancing.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I don’t know if it’s the best writing advice I’ve received, but it’s the one that I have built my life around. My graduate advisor, Lorrie Moore, told me that it is difficult to impossible for a woman to be a mother, a teacher, and a writer all at once. She said it’d be wise if I’d pick two out of the three and focus on them. It took a lot of maneuvering and too many meals of rice and beans at the start, but I chose being a writer first, then being a mother, with a few rare and short-term teaching gigs thrown in (because it’s a rare privilege to mentor new writers).

What is your favorite piece of art or literature set in Florida?

I’m crazy right now about the work of the Highwaymen, a group of self-taught African American painters who painted Florida in such brilliant colors that it changed the way we visualize the state. Someday, I may have enough money to buy a painting, but in the meantime, I go back again and again to a stunningly beautiful book about them, edited by my friend Gary Monroe.

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