Friday, September 26, 2014

Q&A with author Ladette Randolph

Ladette Randolph, photo by Tami Turnbull
Ladette Randolph is the author of the new memoir Leaving the Pink House. Her other books include the novels Haven's Wake and A Sandhills Ballad and the short story collection This Is Not the Tropics. She is the editor-in-chief of Ploughshares, she teaches at Emerson College, and she lives in Boston.

Q: You write, “I best understand my life through the houses where I’ve lived.” Why is that?

A: I'm probably not the only adult who has very resonant memories attached to certain houses in my past. There's something very primal about shelter and the ways it represents how people live together. For me anyway, those formative childhood memories of the comforts of home have greatly influenced the way I've gone on to make a home as an adult. 

Q: Leaving the Pink House alternates between chapters in 2001-2, when you’re moving to the house in the country, and chapters covering earlier times in your life. Why did you decide to structure the book that way?

A: The structure of this book arose in an organic way. I first recorded the day to day work of gutting and rebuilding the country house in a journal that I later used as the basis for the framing story in Leaving the Pink House, but once I'd finished that, it didn't really seem to add up as a story.

I let it sit for a long time during which I revisited a series of pieces I'd written years before, many of which I eventually realized had been focused around various houses where I'd lived. Once I combined the two, I felt the story of the house became in fact a story about the meaning of home.
Q: The book mostly takes place in various parts of Nebraska, and you now live in Boston. How would you compare the two as places to live?

A: Boston and Nebraska both have their benefits and their challenges. Nebraska is in my bones, of course, and it's very much in my heart since two of my three grown children are there, my two grandchildren, my mother, and two of my three siblings.

But Boston is full of opportunity. Both my husband and I have good work here, and we've met a lot of great people we're lucky to call friends. The literary community is generous and gracious and I've felt very welcomed by it.

When I first moved to Boston, though, I made a deal with myself that I wouldn't compare it to Nebraska. There was no point in doing so. They're very different places (though the academic circles in which I've always moved have a lot in common no matter where you are in the country), and I felt if I were always comparing I wouldn't adapt to Boston. In a lot of ways that became a habit for me, and I still refrain from making comparisons. I just haven't found it helpful. 

Q: Of the various types of writing and editing you’ve done over the years, do you have a favorite?

A: I've been so fortunate in my work and career. It still astonishes me sometimes, the trust other people have put in me. I can't say I have a favorite type of editing (by which, in my case, you mean acquiring), but I can say there's absolutely nothing like encountering for the first time a great story by a writer you don't know whose work is just emerging. It's the reason I keep coming to work every day.

And it's a great privilege to be in the laboratory of literature, finding writers in the earliest stages of their careers and helping them to build that career.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I've been working on a new novel, and although I have a lot of pages, I'm still in the generative process where I'm reluctant to say much about it for fear of diluting my energy in some way. It's still so all so tentative, I don't even know if it's going to work. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Only that I'm very grateful for this opportunity to talk about my new book!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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