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 Prize.
   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. 

Short Story Collections

Memory Wall
(Fourth Estat, 2010)

reviewed by Tania Hershman

The Shell Collectors

Interview with Anthony Doerr

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

Anthony Doerr: About five years. I was writing other projects at the time too: essays, newspaper pieces, and a novel that's still in progress.

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

AD: Not 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 questions.
   But 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.

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

AD: 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.

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

AD: 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.
   Play 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."
   That's 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 real lives.

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

AD:  I 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. But 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.

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

AD: Sure, 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?

AD: It feels nice. It feels like maybe all those thousands of hours alone at the desk are worthwhile.

TSR: What are you working on now?

AD:  I’m writing a novel set in France, Germany, and Poland during WWII.

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

AD:  Alan Heathcock’s Volt, Amy Hempel’s The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, and an advance copy of a forthcoming collection called Monstress, by Lysley Tenorio.
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