We are thrilled to welcome Laura Furman back to the Library to discuss her new collection of short stories, the Mother Who Stayed. Recently appointed to the American Library in Paris Writers’ Council, Laura is an award-winning novelist, short-story writer, and essayist whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Ploughshares, and The Yale Review. She is the editor of the PEN/ O.Henry Prize Stories series. Please join us on Wednesday 16 March at 19h30.
Laura, what brought you to Paris?
The first time I visited Paris was in the 1970s when I came over with some English people I didn’t know very well. Then I returned several times as part of an editing job I had for years. Each time I returned for one reason or another, I wanted to live in Paris or at least to experience Parisian life not as a tourist but as a person with a place to live and a job to do. In Spring 2010, my opportunity came, and I taught at the Sorbonne, Paris 3, and lived in a charming apartment in the First Arrondissement.
What keeps you coming back?
There is something in Paris that makes me happy. When I try to take it apart and analyze why this should be, nothing sensible emerges, but that doesn’t mean the feeling isn’t palpable and genuine.
Can you tell us about how you began writing this collection of stories?
Because the stories were written over such a long period of time—over ten years—I can’t point to one image or person or event for its origin. The nine stories in the collection are divided into three trios, and each trio represents a different part of the world and a different interest. One aspect of the story form that’s most intriguing to me is the relation of the past and the present. (The name of my second story collection is Watch Time Fly.) In The Mother Who Stayed, in each individual story and also in the trios, I worked with time—and over time—and watched its effect on my characters and settings.
What advice would you give to struggling writers interested in writing short stories?
My obvious advice is that which writers don’t really need—read, read, read, read anything and everything.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
The late American sculptor, Anne Truitt, once told me that she never had a show unless she already had a studio full of work in progress. By implication, that example says not to depend on a reaction from the outside world to one’s work. You make your work the basis of your life. Then nothing can take away your privacy or stop you from working.
How do you view the role of the Library’s Writer’s Council?
My idea is that we are great friends to the library, there to help it carry out its mission and to add what we can from our particular experiences and talents.
I began a book last summer set in Paris. Its subject so far is friendship, but who knows what it will be by the time I’m finished writing it.
Read the review of The Mother Who Stayed in the San Francisco Chronicle.