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Alix Ohlin


Born in Montreal, Alix Ohlin studied at Harvard and later at the Michener Center. Her fiction has appeared in journals such as Shenandoah and One Story, and has been included in both the Best New American Voices and Best American Short Story anthologies. Her novel The Missing Person was published in 2005. She lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, and teaches at Lafayette College.

Short Story Collections

Babylon and Other Stories 
Random House, 2006

Shortlisted, 2007 Story Prize

Reviewed by Scott Doyle

 Interview with Alix Ohlin 

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Alix Ohlin: I wrote, and revised, them over a period of around ten years.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

AO: When I was writing the earliest stories, before I even went to graduate school, I wasn’t sure that the stories would ever be published at all—much less in a collection. The latest stories were written after I already had a contract. It’s been interesting for me to see how people make connections among the stories in the collection, since I didn’t conceive of the book as a whole entity along the way.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

AO: I’d written a lot of stories over the years, and I chose the stories I thought were strongest—17 of them—and sent them to my editor, thinking he’d do the final culling. Instead he said, “Let’s include all of them.” He also liked the order in which I sent them, which I hadn’t really thought through in a conscious way. I think the order just worked intuitively; there’s a certain variety in the sequence of characters, and I like the lines that start and end the book.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

AO:  That’s hard to answer! One of the things I love about the short story is how elastic the definition can be, how muscular the form is, how much variety and experimentation it can sustain. A story by Borges is a vastly different aesthetic and emotional experience from a story by Alice Munro. But I always remember something that Mavis Gallant writes in her introduction to her collected stories, about how you shouldn’t read stories one after another as if they were chapters of novels. She says, “Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.” When she says that they can wait, I don’t think she means they aren’t urgent or important. She means that stories are strong, and self-contained, and timeless.

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

AO:  No, I don’t—not because I don’t want readers, but because thinking about them would make me feel self-conscious, as if someone were there in the room, watching me writing in my pajamas.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

AO: I’d be too shy to ask them anything.

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?

AO: Wonderful, and weird, in about equal proportions.

TSR: What are you working on now?

AO: I’m working on a new novel, and more stories, and a book of essays about nature and art.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

AOI read Kevin Wilson’s amazing debut, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, and Michael Parker’s funny, heartbreaking book Don’t Make Me Stop Now, and I’ve also been re-reading The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford, just because she’s so great—especially the story Children Are Bored on Sundays, one of my all-time favorites.