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'Olive Again': Elizabeth Strout On The Return To Crosby, Maine And Olive — Again

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Author Elizabeth Strout
Leonardo Cendamo
Author Elizabeth Strout

It’s been a decade since Elizabeth Strout won a Pulitzer Prize for her eponymous collection of linked stories about Olive Kitteridge. Now there’s something of a sequel to that book — the novel called Olive, Again.

You don’t have to have read Olive Kitteridge to appreciate this new offering, but you’ll probably want to. Olive is a complex character — as blunt as she is kind. As hopeless as she is hopeful. It’s out in paperback this month.

Highlights from the interview with Elizabeth Strout

On the wide-ranging influence of the character of Olive

I remember in Italy, some woman who couldn't speak English, and there was a translator, and she was older and she said to the translator, “Tell her that she has seen into my soul,” and she had tears in her eyes and I thought, wow. I mean, I could have died at that moment. I could, you know, I thought, okay, well I've done everything. I was just so glad to hear that.

On the characters of Henry and Jack

I wanted to ease into who Olive was, you know, through her husband, because he's so much kinder than she was, I have to have let the reader come into the world in a gentler way… But they're such different men. She had two very, very different husbands. And I think that Jack was a total surprise to her as she was to him. But in one of those stories, Jack thinks to himself that he could be himself with her and I think she can be herself with him. And I think that's what they're living on. You know, they can actually be authentically who they are with each other, especially at this stage of life.

On writing stories about older characters

It's interesting because years ago, I actually forget about this, but many years ago I got a degree in gerontology and I realized, oh yeah, I always have had a sense for older people. You know? So, even when I was like 23 and I got that degree, and I've always been drawn to older people and I think that we need them in literature. I think that we need them and their truthful stories. I think that we need to realize that these people have dignity. They're living with dignity as much as they possibly can, which is what anybody can do — is live with as much dignity as they can.

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Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.