January 25, 2010
Winter With the Writers, A Festival of the Literary Arts kicked off on January 21 with novelist Andrea Barrett.
Barrett read excerpts from “Theories of Rain,” one of the short stories in Servants of the Map. Afterwards, she sat down with Winter With the Writers Director Carol Frost to answer questions submitted by the audience.
A self-described “clumsy writer,” Barrett said her characters evolve slowly and awkwardly.
“I’m really the poster child for revising,” said Barrett, who went on to say that she writes quite a few drafts before she knows what the story is about.
A biology major at Union College in Schenectady, New York, Barrett began writing late in life.
“College had everything to do with my writing,” she explained, “because I had several biology professors who fascinated me.”
Much of Barrett’s writing focuses on the natural world and her scientific mind serves her well.
“I always do too much research, however, and have to throw most of it away,” said Barrett, who once hired a mountain climber to lower her into a crevasse so she could closely examine the colors of the glacier.
When asked by a member of the audience what she considers to be her weakness, Barrett said “I don’t believe I’ve ever written anything that qualifies as a sex scene.”
“Well,” said Frost, “research!”
Servants of the Map was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, and its title story was selected for Best American Stories 2001 and Prize Stories 2001: The O. Henry Awards.
Barrett received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1992 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1997. She won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1996 for her first short story collection, Ship Fever. In 2001 Barrett was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (also called the Genius Award) and in 2003 she received the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She has also been a fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. Barrett teaches at Williams College and in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers.