A couple weeks ago I had the immense pleasure of attending a book talk by none other than the amazing Lauren Groff. She was at Vroman’s in Pasadena promoting her new book Florida with grace, poise, and temporary tattoos (!) for all of us in attendance. As a huge fan of both Fates and Furies and Arcadia, it was a delight to hear her speak about reading, writing, politics, and a love/hate relationship with Guy de Maupassant.
Groff treated us first to a reading from the first story in Florida, “Ghosts and Empties,” followed by a refreshingly direct Q&A session. When asked about a writer’s responsibility and political engagement, for example, Groff deftly explained how she abandoned a recently finished draft just after the 2016 U.S. elections — that it was a kind of book we could no longer afford to indulge in. She does not write overtly politically, but rather tries to work sideways to get to the things that really matter right now. She finds she is writing less and throwing more away, as I am, so I found immense comfort in her assurances that it is okay to admit we are struggling as writers in the current environment. I was likewise pleased by her encouragement to spread empathy and be kind to each other.
Groff’s writing shows great consideration for words, so I was intrigued but not surprised by her ability with languages. She spent time in France as a teenager where she discovered and loved the work of Guy de Maupassant, that master of the short story form, before beginning to hate him as an avatar of toxic masculinity. To this day she tries to read in French at least once a week, and admits that French has deeply affected her English. She self-deprecatingly says she is terrible at writing in French, although she she’d love to do so. Or Italian. Or German. (I find written German to be deeply satisfying from a grammatical perspective
because I am such a nerd, so I can relate.)
An anecdote about reading to her son, and how it created a special bond between them, really resonated with me. It is amazing how reading together gives you the same points of reference. You share and can understand each others’ canon. It crystallized for me how much I enjoy reading the same books as a close friend, or watching a show with someone dear. It enhances your ability to speak each others’ language.
As far as her new work, Florida is where she calls home, so the stories she weaves in this collection are steeped in a sense of place all the more authentically. The women she writes about are her but not her. And while she lives with her novels every day, her short stories orbit in the back of her mind until they demand to be written. Personally, I can’t wait to see what comes out of her orbit.
Thank you, Lauren Groff!