This year’s Frank B Hanes writer-in-residence at UNC-Chapel Hill is someone the Los Angeles Review of Books calls “one of the best short story writers in the country.”
A new collection of 40 Lorrie Moore stories has been released from Everyman’s Library. The foreword is by fellow writer Lauren Groff who I think sums it up a bit more skillfully.
Groff quotes Moore from How to become a writer. “First, try to be something, anything else.”
“The only happiness you have is writing something new, in the middle of the night, with wet armpits, pounding heart, something no one has seen before.”
I was eager to read the results of this kind of inspiration. Moore’s stories deal with relationships between and among families, co-workers, lovers and strangers – and often there’s humor that occasionally turns into hilarity. I recently spoke with Moore on the phone about the collection and his upcoming visit to Chapel Hill.
When I first started reading your stories in this collection, I was struck by the way you write about the disappointments of some of your characters…
I think when people go to literature, they’re not really looking for stories of the perfect life that went so well and that everyone is so happy about. I think they’re looking for a certain complexity, the mixed bag that is human nature and human existence.
In “Beautiful Grade”, a professor is dating one of his recent students when they both attend a New Year’s Eve dinner party. The guests are all older friends and professors of Bill’s and he finds it awkward to to be there with his young date, Debbie. The host leads them all into the dining room and you describe what you call the actively prepared salads as follows:
“..the salads, which, with their chunks of cheese, protruding chives and little frieze folios, look like little Easter hats.” How do you describe something so common in such an unusual way?
I think when everyone looks at these things, it triggers analogous images, memories. The thing about writing and writers is that they write these things. I’ve seen salads that look like Easter hats, so I just noted that.
Bill is the serious child his parents couldn’t love the way they loved his sister. And he knows it from a very young age. It’s disappointing for him, isn’t it? He may have resigned himself to it…
I realize that the ending kind of sits next to the rest of the story, but that’s also what underpins his sense of loss and that’s his sister’s death. It’s that feeling that somehow the charm of the world isn’t going to last and the luck of life isn’t going to be permanent. And somehow, when I wrote that paragraph, I just ended the story there.
In addition to classes, you organize public events, including a lecture on Tuesday in the Moeser auditorium and a few panels that deal with humor in storytelling and also writers who put themselves in danger. What is your biggest risk as a writer?
I think that’s what stories are looking for. They’re chasing something that’s a bit dangerous. They are safe spaces because it is fiction and you are protected. But inside of that people say and do things that aren’t necessarily something you wouldn’t say or do yourself and reading that is having an experience you wouldn’t necessarily have but perhaps understanding and expanding yours empathy and expanding your own life.
Lorrie Moore is the 2022 Frank B. Hanes Writer-in-Residence at UNC-Chapel Hill.