The final speaker for the Pen & Podium series was Elizabeth Strout. You remember her – she wrote Olive Kitteridge which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009 and has been a non-stop hit with readers since it appeared in the book store or on the e-reader. Elizabeth Strout began keeping a journal at an early age, wrote her first short story at the age of 16 and had her work published when she was 26.
Her theory is that fiction “gives us a chance to inhabit somebody else’s life. It helps create compassion and helps us live the life we want to live.” While we can only view the world from our own eyes, and never see things through the eyes of others, fiction writers “get to be in someone else’s head.” What does it feel like to be another person? Most of us don’t know, we don’t really even know what our spouses, friends or children are thinking and feeling – we’d like to know but really we don’t.
As life progresses, “some people become bigger and some people become bitter,” Strout observes. “Fiction shows us how others stumble along.” And isn’t that how most of us live – by stumbling along, doing our best? Strout says the inability to understand each other is really “a limitation of language.” Writers want to “give voice to the complexities of life.” “I feel responsible to the reader,” she says, “and I want to use the right word and express natural emotion. I want to show it’s ok to be human.”
As she wrapped up, Strout said, “I want to write so people feel connected. Reading is a celebration of our human selves.”
Ok, she convinced me. Fiction matters.