Christine Schutt’s take on being an author.
By Dominique McIndoe
SOUTH ORANGE – Christine Schutt approaches the podium with a smile. She stands before an audience of about 80 students and community members in the University Center’s faculty lounge at Seton Hall University on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. She has been introduced as the night’s speaker in the Poetry-in-the-Round reading series and she waits for the applause of her arrival to die down.
Schutt expresses her gratitude for the kind words from her introduction. She also notes her surprise for the event’s turn out for the reading of her 2008 novel “All Souls,” which was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
“I wish I’d brought something nastier,” she said, while her eyes lit up. It caused an eruption of laughter in the audience.
She then commenced the reading of selected passages from her novel, giving lively, first-hand accounts from her characters’ mouths and pacing her reading at various speeds that made the words come alive from the pages.
Christine Schutt, novelist and short story writer, said that she knew she wanted to be a writer the moment she was assigned to write a short story in her ninth or tenth grade English class. Her earliest influences included the likes of Emily Dickinson, W.D. Snodgrass, and Robert Lowell, among other poets.
“I felt up to the task, had ideas for the story, and enjoyed myself in the writing of it,” Schutt said. “But when my teacher went bonkers, gave me a huge “A” and waved my story around the classroom like a flag; when he told me I was a natural, I knew what I could do and what I wanted to do: write things that get enthusiastic responses.”
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Since the beginning of her writing career, Schutt’s prose has not gone unnoticed by readers and other writing veterans. She has written two collections of short stories, “A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer” and “Nightwork.” Her debut novel “Florida” was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award for fiction and her most recent novel, “Prosperous Friends,” was published by Grove Press in 2012.
John Ashbery, poet and Pulitzer Prize winner, described Schutt’s material as “pared down, but rich, dense, fevered, exactly right and even eerily beautiful.”
Although Schutt’s writing has garnered much attention and acclaim, when asked whether she related to any of the characters in her stories, she responded in the affirmative.
“Yes,” Schutt said. “Their self-doubts are mine.”
Schutt’s work is known widely for its serious themes, distinctive sentence structure and relatable-to-life characters. She said that she is currently working on a new story about absent mothers and fathers. Her reading of “All Souls” at Seton Hall’s Poetry-in-the-Round series gave listeners a glimpse into the life of a high school student suffering from a rare form of tissue cancer.
David Means, short story writer and novelist, once said of Schutt’s work: “Like Emily Dickinson, and with the same secretive precision, Schutt unfolds a deeply intimate vision, revealing to us bare boned glimpses into the most private of realms.”
Schutt said that the most challenging part of being a writer is sitting down to write every day. Her advice to those who seek to be writers?
“Forever aspire, read and write,” she said.