Anthony Doerr is the author of four books, The Shell Collector, About Grace, Four Seasons in Rome, and, most recently, Memory Wall.
Doerr’s short fiction has won three O. Henry Prizes and has been anthologized in
The Best American Short Stories, The Anchor Book of New American Short
Stories, and The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. He
has won the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize, the Rome Prize, the New
York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, a Guggenheim
Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, the National Magazine Award for Fiction,
two Pushcart Prizes, the Pacific Northwest Book Award, two Ohioana Book
Awards, the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award and the 2010 Story
His books have twice been a New York Times Notable Book, an American
Library Association Book of the Year, and made lots of other year end
"Best Of" lists. In 2007, the British literary magazine Granta placed
Doerr on its list of 21 Best Young American novelists.
Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife and two sons. He teaches
now and then in the low-residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College
in North Carolina. His book reviews have appeared in the New York Times
and Der Spiegel, and he writes a regular column on science books for
the Boston Globe.
with Anthony Doerr
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
five years. I was writing other projects at the time too: essays,
newspaper pieces, and a novel that's still in progress.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
at first. Once I had two stories completed (Village 113 and The Demilitarized Zone) I started to see that my work was
becoming particularly preoccupied with memory, and I began to wonder
if I could organize a book around that preoccupation. I thought it
would be interesting to make a story collection in which the stories
were linked not by character or setting but by their central
it wasn't until I'd published two more stories (Procreate,
Generate and Memory Wall) that I decided to try it. So only
the most recent two stories (Afterworld and The River
Nemunas) were written expressly with the idea of including these
six pieces inside the boards of the same book.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
I knew I wanted them all to ask questions about memory: what is it? how
does it define who we are? how does our moment-by-moment existence
sometimes prevent us from codifying memory? and why is it so fragile?
Though I had published a few other stories that might normally have
gone into a collection, I only chose stories that somehow carried the
fragility of memory in the face of time as the driving undercurrent.
And my editor helped choose the order: she thought we should use the
two novellas as bookends, and I was happy enough to trust her judgment
on that. After we had the order I worked for a full month on the ending
of Afterworld; I wanted its ending to be an ending to the whole experience of the book.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
Story is a form of memory: it's a way to impose shape and meaning on the
general formlessness of life. And story is a kind of play, too.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
is our way of practicing life and death: just watch children for ten
minutes and you can see that fairly clearly. Some folks argue that
our interest in stories is cooked into us, that there's an
evolutionary advantage for any species that can pass information to
its offspring through narrative. You know, "Don't eat that
flower," one of our ancestors tells another, "because it made my
grandmother sick for a week."
why we ride roller coasters, and follow the narratives of celebrities
and politicians, go to the movies, read novels, and grow fondest of
our friends who are the best storytellers. Because they are good at
posing dramatic questions and making us wait to hear the answers.
They're good at helping us rehearse emotions we might need in our
always have a reader in mind, yes. I think it’s vital to get one’s
prose to the place where it’s communicating as efficiently and
elegantly as possible to a total stranger.
in my imagination that stranger is not necessarily one specific
person. Maybe it should be? Maybe I should imagine a Finnish woman
on a bus wearing yellow stockings holding a book in her lap.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
I’d say: If you liked the book, could you please maybe tell someone
else about it?
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
feels nice. It feels like maybe all those thousands of hours alone
at the desk are worthwhile.
What are you working on now?
writing a novel set in France, Germany, and Poland during WWII.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, and
an advance copy of a forthcoming collection called Monstress,