Lauren Groff on "Florida" at AWP 2018



I have your buddy rich folly PBS folks we're back at AWP 2018 brought to you by PBS is a great American read series coming to PBS stations nationwide this spring spring we're here actually right now and we're also here right now with Lauren Groff who's brand new set of short stories is coming out really soon called Florida yes yes and I feel like we're getting a sneak peek at Florida before it comes out you're also of course the author of fates and Furies which was a much lauded much honored novel now you're writing stories and I want to start there first of all then we'll dive into the title and what it means to you but the switch from writing a longer form novel into these stories and how you collecting how long it takes for that to come together for you so I've always been a short story writer and in fact I think that that is the form to which I gravitate most willingly and happily and joyously so I've been I've been writing short stories since the day that I thought I was a writer and I do novels at the same time in order to balance out my brain because I don't write the short stories until they become so urgent I can't actually see the novel that I'm working on so I've been working on these stories in this collection for about nine years Wow we moved to Florida twelve years ago and I was so angry about it but I didn't yeah it's a different part of the world where did you live yes I'm from upstate New York I'm from Cooperstown New York which could not be more different from the Enzo anyway but you know we've lived all over the country or peripatetic like a lot of the people of my generation and then we eventually settled down after we got married in Gainesville Florida and you know it's it's such an alien place the foliage wants to eat you the animals want to eat you your houses are threatened by either hurricanes from above or termites from below you know did you say it feels like humans were not necessarily meant to be there and I felt like I was not necessarily meant to be there but slowly it's it's sort of seeped into my soul and I now actually truly love Florida all of its weirdness all of the nature I love the alligators weirdly which I never think I never thought I would ever say in my life but yeah did you know when you were starting the stories that you wanted it to be a conceptualize around the Florida round the state around the oddity I we just writing like you knew at that time well my previous short story collection ended up being just at the ends about women right each each story was about a very strong woman and this one I was just writing whatever was most urgent in my head and it happened to bubble up that they were all about Florida and about domesticity and about resisting the institutions that we find ourselves within yeah I mean the cover is panther yeah like you've got this danger element here yes you talked about it there's also a sense of observing and like you know being foreign to a place and it's not feeling natural yet and the first story in the collection is of you walking a lot sort of working out sort of aggressions or not you I but of your of your narrator just kind of observing this place not feeling comfortable in it and then subsequent stories are some of those dangers you talked about some of the fears that come along and to me as I read it it really felt like it was it was like all those things you mentioned fear I'm feeling unsettled not feeling like you're home really come to the floor in this book like you're working through all that in front of our eyes well yes I was the the character who is not not me that's right through the course of writing the stories too um but you know this book is really it's it's also very much about I'm a change which is it's a it's an underlying thing in the sort of the peril that we all find ourselves in through nature and through what we're doing to nature and so it's the collision between the human in nature between internal and external between domestic city and the wild that's really where the tension is in the book yeah it comes through the other thing that comes through is your there's children in this book and I feel a sense of but there's a maternal instinct that sort of runs through this book as well yeah and I'm assuming that this is all based on your own life but at some point this fear comes in of protecting your own children can you talk about and the effect that had on some of these stores – well it's not only a maternal instinct it's an anti maternal instinct so I feel it in myself a real resistance to being categorized as a mother right because when you're a writer and a woman you're always a woman first no matter what and from the beginning even before I had kids I never I never wanted to do that it's not that I didn't want to be a mother I just didn't want that to be in my work but unfortunately you know you write from life right and I and in a lot of the stories – there's a resistance to those sort of stereotypes that we fall into through our own exhaustion with fighting them to be honest there are children in the book that are in peril right and then we were talking about this earlier but it's it's not it's it's the peril of themselves being let loose within the wild and the peril of whether or not Humanity is going to save them right in the in very real ways every peril and child in peril is in peril hoping that someone's going to come along and sweep them up I don't know if they do end up doing so in all the stories but you know dude I don't want you to believe that this is a book where it kids get hurt I do think though that every book is I mean that you can't write anything today without it being somewhat political and I think that you talk about apparel is a larger term here yes and there is Florida there's no more political state maybe out there than Florida and everything going right yeah you find yourself in depends on where you are by the way in state of Florida you know the politics are different in Gainesville than they are in Miami and etc or in Naples that must be an interesting thing too for you to be in that world and to think about it just accentuates the sense that everything is political right now well everything has always been political so when I was growing up as a baby writer you know 20 years old there is this feeling that a lot of people had that a writer was not supposed to be political right a writer was supposed to be someone who just speaks from his ivory tower and you either listen or you don't right but but this is you had to be divorced from the politics because it makes your work dirty or something but the truth is there's never been art that's not political every piece of art is a reflection of what is happening around the world right so all pieces of art are political whether or not they acknowledge that is a very separate thing but ya know I I found in the state of Florida this fascinating ambiguity and just really strange ambivalence about politics because Gainesville is the bluest part of the entire state right and then we are surrounded by just like a crimson time but threatens to like tsunami over a sanitary basis so it's this this feeling actually of being besieged in some ways at the Alamo but you know and and yet at the same time I have such tremendous sympathy right for the voices of people who live in the red and are fed this narrative this constant narrative that doesn't allow them to see anything beyond the boundaries of what they're being told so it's it's a really complex and strange place full of ambiguity it's true I don't know I don't think you're not afraid to go there and you do seems like that sort of feeds all of your creative juices and if that sort of fierceness and that sort of strong opinions that you share really I'm oppositional yeah for sure my poor parents you grew up in a political household no actually we're the opposite my parents refused to talk about things that are difficult and I want to do how did they spawn you so when you go home for Thanksgiving what's it like it's like everyone gets drunk because nobody wants to talk yeah yeah no but I I stand up pontificate I have an older brother who it's like the most charming and brilliant person and he takes up all of the oxygen in the room and so I grew up in the shadow of that and then eventually I thought why does he get all the attention entitlements and I started to speaking for myself and I think that that's that's my like that's my origin story I see how does he respond when you explain that that the taking up the air in the room explaining you how that's not the case it was just my perception yeah but you somehow or another though you broke free of that what was it where did it happen for you where you decided I've got something to say and not only that I've got something really strong to say and you know my background be damned so when you start reading intensely as a reader and you are you are there you've been there forever um you you start having this rebellion inside right like this little sense fomenting inside of yourself that the things that you're being told are not correct right or they're not exactly right or there are only one part of a much more complicated story and so every book that I read and I was a voracious insane reader um sort of fed that little fire and made me become oppositional like I said like and when I was about 16 that was my peak in childhood of reading it was also the peak of my rebellion and then luckily my parents got me out of the house but you have to be open to that right because you know yesterday we had our oak Juan here and she talked about the incendiaries another and she said the same thing she said that she used to be a very religious human being her parents still are and I asked what change why her why not why why did she not push it away some of these feelings and it was because she said she read and after you you start to read vote voraciously as you talked about you can't help but begin to see a larger world and maybe begin to question some of the things that you thought but you still have to be open to that right because there is this large red world you talk about a large blue world either either side that doesn't want to change that say I'd be open to that you were something was different for you well no my parents are incredibly smart right and they encouraged us to find our own way and to find our own passions but I also think that it a lot of it is you know in the Aronson the person to you know I don't know I actually I think that all books teach you how to read other books I actually believe that you know the people who are stuck in their own ways within the red or their blue if they read more books they wouldn't be stuck in there on my so I would resist a little bit what you're saying um I actually think that books are the way to like to break open the boundaries of what you believe that you know about the world they meant to that I've done that you know you're gonna be talking about this book soon – and you're gonna be moving that all around the country but also in Florida yeah so here you are in blue Gainesville and you're gonna find the audience that loves you I do worry likely because Florida is a strange state I know it pretty well – and you've got people that write about and they get a little defensive sometimes about the exception of weird floor yeah yeah weird place they don't embrace it like say Austin or some of these other cities are like yes we're weird it's cool sometimes there's a push back for sure do you worry about how it'll be perceived or is that just part of this thing you're like nope not all here's the thing just like a single individual human being is not one single story right the state of Florida is far too complex to be held within the bounds of two covers of a book so yes I have however many stories ten in this book and each one represents a different kind of Florida slightly different you haven't come close to talking about the entire state of Florida because it's impossible you could not write a single book about the state of Florida so if someone comes to me and says that you did not represent Florida I said I will say I didn't represent yours but your Florida is a very different Florida than mine exactly right exactly so when you these stories that you talked about earlier how they come together you've been writing this collection for how long eleven and a half years Wow yeah so eleven and a half years and and when you're putting these stories together and you're then putting of this this mixtape this thing you know one after the other how do you think about the packaging of it all and you leave some on the side of the road I left a lot on the side of there they were just they meant they the roadkill so the armadillos there there's a possum so what I believe that a short story collection needs to be an argument and it needs to be an argument that each subsequent story takes and turns or reverses and expands upon and so so the argument so what we have in the first story is this woman very neurotic woman not not me I'm walking around her very strange neighborhood at night really worried and really anxious about the state of the world and then at the the very last story is a very different story in a set in France but the character comes to a realization about herself in Florida and the last image is of her little son who is the most vulnerable person in the entire book but also the one who ends up having the power it is little tiny hands so it so there's an argument that that is set forth between the stories from the beginning to the end your book is Florida Lauren Groff it's really wonderful to have you here and I can't wait for this book to make its way into the hands of readers everywhere on these stories to begin to resonate but it's so nice to have you on our set today it's great thank you so much all right folks the book is Florida you've been talking with Loren Groff there's more to come a WB 2018 is all behind me right now there's still more stick around

3 thoughts on “Lauren Groff on "Florida" at AWP 2018

  1. She uses the word domesticity in the same way Lana Del Rey uses Juxtaposition.

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