Pillbox

Award-winning author reads

New York Times bestselling author Lauren Groff visited Carnegie Mellon on Tuesday evening to deliver a reading from her upcoming novel Fates and Furies and an in-progress short story. Before taking the stage at Kresge Theatre in the College of Fine Arts, she sat down in the Baker Hall Swank Room to answer questions from students in a fiction workshop taught by Kevin González, a creative writing professor.

The students, including myself, had read her most recent novel, Arcadia, one of the best books of 2012 according to Kirkus Reviews, The New York Times, NPR, and several other media outlets. Students asked Groff about the novel, which is about the life of Bit Stone. Born on a hippie commune in upstate New York, Bit is forced to adapt to life “Outside” after the commune collapses, all the while navigating complex relationships with his mother, wife, and daughter.

Among the advice she offered students was the need to be passionate no matter what path they choose to pursue. She said that students need only “one thing for a career: You have to say ‘I’m going to f****** do this.’”

After discussing craft and her unique method of revision, which centers on rewriting the entire story by hand multiple times without referring to earlier drafts, the class made its way to the Center for Fine Arts where a small crowd had gathered to hear Groff’s reading.

González introduced Groff by listing her accolades and relating a humorous story about the time her insistence that Pittsburgh is a Midwestern city, and not in the mid-Atlantic or on the East Coast, led to the two of them and a third anonymous writer getting kicked out of a taxi in Texas. He concluded by saying “Her prose will mend and break and mend and break your heart.”

Groff took the stage and read first a short story featuring an au pair who runs away from home shortly after returning to the United States from France. She then read from Fates and Furies, a novel centered around marriage.

The passage Groff read, which involved the protagonist reflecting on the day she became a wealthy widow, had flashes of humor against a poignant backdrop, much like the short story and Arcadia. She delivered her readings in an easy voice with a cadence described by students as “hypnotic.” She only altered her voice slightly to the dialogue of different characters, enough to highlight the difference in accent or tone without trying to actually speak as that character. Her reading was overall easy to listen to and provided an excellent way to experience her strong, yet subtle, writing.

After the reading, Groff joined students and faculty for hors d’oeuvres outside the theater.