By Heather Fabritze
Elm Staff Writer
“Sigrid Nunez Reads From Her Fiction,” the latest event in the Rose O’Neill Literary House series, began virtually at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13.
The webinar was co-sponsored by Phi Beta Kappa and the Washington College Department of English. It featured a reading from acclaimed writer Sigrid Nunez, who also led a virtual generative workshop on Thursday, April 14 at 6 p.m.
Nunez currently has eight published novels, including “What Are You Going Through,” from which she read an excerpt
Her book, “The Friend,” was a New York Times bestseller, won the 2018 National Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2019 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize. It was also a finalist for the 2020 International Dublin Literary Award and was longlisted in France for the 2019 Prix Femina.
Nunez’s work has been translated into more than 25 languages and has won multiple honors, including the Whiting Writers Award, a Berlin Prize Fellowship, the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award, the Rome Prize in Literature, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, according to the College’s website.
Her most recent novel, “What Are You Going Through,” follows two women in their 60s. The narrator’s old college friend is dying of cancer and makes the decision to die from euthanasia instead. The novel’s narrator is the only one who is willing to go with her and the book follows the subsequent journey they take together.
Nunez found the idea to be “important” and said she had always wanted to write about death as a topic.
“I guess there was someone who said to me, ‘Why are you drawn to death?’ And I said, ‘Well, I think it’s really more a question of death drawing me to it,’” Nunez said. “I think as you get older, you’re thinking more about death, and you write about what your obsessions, or your fixations, or your meditations are about.”
Unlike other writers, particularly those who model their works after the classical genre, Nunez prefers to not focus on lengthy or complex descriptions of these issues. She would rather emphasize the “reflection” occurring within the minds of her characters, and the journeys they are taking.
While details are important, she tends to be particular when it comes to those she wants to include.
“My attempt is to find the right details to keep them few, or as few as possible, but to find the right details that will advance the story in some way or illuminate something about it,” Nunez said.
This combination of simple storytelling mechanics and deep ideas creates an opportunity to strike a chord with her readers. Having that ability to connect and influence those who read her books to such a great extent is one part of writing that Nunez analyzed during the webinar.
“There is a certain amount of vulnerability, certainly, but isn’t there always when you’re writing?” Nunez said. “You’re really always putting yourself out there when you’re writing, and so I think that’s one of the things that makes it hard, is one of the things that makes it wonderful, because, when you do it, then you have the reader. You touch the reader with that vulnerability.”
The next event in the Rose O’Neill Literary House series is the Class of 2022 Senior Reading, which will be held on Monday, April 25 at 6 p.m. in the Rose O’Neill Literary House. A virtual option will also be available.
Photo courtesy of the Washington College website
Featured Photo Caption: Sigrid Nunez is an award-winning author who has published eight novels.