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Author Lorrie Moore named 2022 Frank B Hanes Writer-In-Residence at UNC Chapel Hill

Author Lorrie Moore is the 2022 Frank B. Hanes Writer-In-Residence at UNC Chapel Hill
Courtesy: Lorrie Moore
Author Lorrie Moore is the 2022 Frank B. Hanes Writer-In-Residence at UNC Chapel Hill

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 finest short story writers in the country."

A new collection of 40 of Lorrie Moore's stories is out from Everyman's Library. The foreword is from another writer Lauren Groff who I think sums it up with a little more flair.

Groff quotes Moore from How To Become A Writer. "First, try to be something, anything else."

And then:

"The only happiness you have is writing something new, in the middle of the night, armpits damp, heart pounding, something no one has yet seen."

I couldn't wait to read the results of that kind of inspiration. Moore's stories deal with relationships among and amid families, co-workers, lovers and strangers - and often, there is humor that sometimes slips into hilarity. I spoke with Moore recently on the phone about the collection and her upcoming visit to Chapel Hill.

As I began reading your stories in this collection, I was struck by how you write about the disappointments of some of your characters...

I think that when people go to literature, they're not really looking for stories of the perfect life that turned out so well and everyone is so happy. I think they're looking for some complexity, the mixed bag that is human nature and human existence.

In "Beautiful Grade", a professor is dating a recent student of his when they both attend a New Year's Eve dinner party. The guests are all older friends and faculty of Bill's and he is finding it awkward to be there with his young date, Debbie. The host leads them all into the dining room and you describe what you call the busily constructed salads as follows:

"..salads, which, with their knobs of cheese, jutting chives, and little folios of frisee, resemble small Easter hats." How do you go about describing something so common in such an uncommon way?

I think when everybody looks at these things it triggers analogous images, memories. The thing about writing and writers is that they write those things down. I have seen salads that look like Easter hats, and so I just wrote it down.

Bill is the serious child his parents couldn't enjoy the way they did his sister. And he knows that from an early age. That's disappointing for him, right? He's resigned to it maybe...

I realize that the ending is sort of off to one side of the rest of the story, but it is also what is underpinning his sense of loss and that's the death of his sister. It is this sense that somehow the charm of the world is not going to persist and the lucky stuff of life is not going to be permanent. And somehow when I wrote that paragraph, I just ended the story there.

In addition to classes, you're doing some public events including a talk on Tuesday at Moeser Auditorium and a couple of panels that discuss humor in storytelling and also writers who put themselves at risk. What feels like your biggest risk as a writer?

I think that's what stories are after. They're pursuing something that is a little bit unsafe. They're safe spaces because it's fiction and you're protected. But within that, people are saying and doing things that are not something you wouldn't necessarily say or do yourself and to get to read that is to get to have an experience you wouldn't necessarily have but perhaps to understand and enlarge your own empathies and enlarge your own life.

Lorrie Moore is the 2022 Frank B. Hanes Writer-In-Residence at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
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