The character of Lucy Barton came to her as a “gold thread” whose breathy voice she heard. “I’m not Lucy,” Strout reminded us, “even though we’re both writers. I’m not Lucy, but it doesn’t matter.” Olive Kitteridge, the main character of her Pulitzer Prize–winning novel by that name, “was never a gold thread” but appeared to Strout while she was unloading the dishwasher, saying to her: “’It’s high time everybody left.’ There’s a tiny part of me in every one of my characters,” she admitted.
On the subject of failure, Strout said she failed over and over between the ages of 4, when she began to write stories, and 43, when she finally published. But the thought of quitting depressed her, so she kept writing and improving. “You have to be desperately interested in what it feels like to be another person to be a writer,” she said, and she thinks about the reader all the time. “I am trying to get my experience into your head. Readers need to feel like they are in safe hands.”
Her advice to fellow writers, of whom there were perhaps hundreds on this first night of the weeklong writers’ conference and nightly reading series, is to “just keep reading good stuff and writing—don’t stop.”
“You are what you eat as a reader-writer,” Dubus agreed.
And so did Bill Boden ’00, an Eckerd creative writing graduate from Largo, Florida, who was refining his memoir in Madeleine Blais’s writing workshop and has read almost all of Strout’s books. “She sounds as wise and all-knowing as the voice in her books,” he said as the lights came up in the auditorium. “The literary world is in good hands with authors like Elizabeth Strout.”