Author Lauren Groff, whose 2015 novel President Barack Obama called his favorite of the year, discussed the craft of writing as part of the final session of the 2016 Plutzik Reading Series on Nov. 30. Afterward, she gave a short story reading to the public in the Hawkins-Carlson room.
She was warmly introduced by Associate Professor of English Stephen Schottenfeld, who called her work “unconstrained and wide-ranging” and “equally striking for its stillness and concentration.”
Hailing from Cooperstown, New York, Groff said she felt at home in the “gloomy, cold” Rochester weather.
She thanked the audience and recognized that it was a particularly busy time of the semester.
“The fact that you guys are here makes you my favorite humans ever,” she said.
Groff began reading her short story, “The Midnight Zone,” which was published in The New Yorker in the spring of 2016.
Drawing occasional laughter and smiles from the audience, Groff read the first-person narrative of a mother temporarily left by her husband to deal with her two children at a hunting camp.
After the reading, the floor was opened for questions.
One audience member asked about how Groff found her way with words, to which she replied, “I thought I was a poet, but the truth is nobody would want to read my poetry.”
Groff recounted that soon after, she found her passion in fiction while attending Amherst College.
When asked about her inspirations, she said that “Florida [her place of residence] brings out terror in me, everything wants to kill you […] the people too!”
Groff also claimed that she wanted to encapsulate the richness of the state’s biodiversity, which she said is rapidly declining.
“[Being a writer] is how I justify my existence,” Groff said.
Another audience member asked what was the hardest scene for her to write. Groff confessed that sex scenes posed a particular challenge.
“Oh my God, my husband is going to read this, and my mom,” she exclaimed.
She said she strives to stay truthful and oppose the oppression of women’s sexuality.
The question-and-answer portion of the event concluded with an audience member asking about how she accomplished the masterful character development of the husband and wife in her novel “Fates and Furies,” Obama’s favorite book of 2015.
Groff revealed that she had initially intended to write two novels, which were then amalgamated to form the lauded work of fiction.
“Fates and Furies” was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, in addition to being a New York Times best seller.
Groff was first published in The Atlantic and has since appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, and four editions of the Best American Short Stories anthology published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The event concluded with book signings for audience members.