"A Gate at the Stairs" with Lorrie Moore: First-Year summer reading author talks about her latest novel

Posted by Julia Leef

Author Lorrie Moore spoke on Nov. 3 to students, faculty and community members about her novel "A Gate at the Stairs", which was assigned as summer reading for the Class of 2015, much to the author's surprise.

Although last year's summer reading-based event was a lecture by Neil Shubin on the scientific views and discoveries expressed in his novel "Your Inner Fish," this year's was a question-and-answer session moderated by Linda Hall, associate professor of English. The audience was not involved in this discussion.

"I feel so sorry for all of you having to read this book," Moore said, adding that she didn't like summer reading and didn't feel her book was a good choice because she thinks it is difficult for people under age 20 to read, although she is grateful that the college chose her book.

Moore teaches literature and writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She won a fiction contest for Seventeen Magazine at age 19, and, for two years after graduating from St. Lawrence University, she worked as a paralegal in New York City, summarizing testimonies for lawyers. She published her first novel, "Anagrams," at age 28.

"Fiction is not really in the business of finding solutions," Moore said, explaining that it is more an organization of questions and problems that interests the author.

 Moore has family history with the College as the granddaughter of a former president, although this was her first visit to the campus.

"After we announced this year's selection, Mary Lynn, professor of American Studies, called our office to let us know that Moore is related to Henry T. Moore, Skidmore's second president," said Marla Melito, interim director of First-Year Experience. "We also found out that she is originally from Glens Falls, NY."

When Hall asked Moore if people who are not very good readers might have trouble understanding the book's politics, Moore answered with an anecdote about people who wanted to toilet paper her house because they believed that her characters' political views reflected upon her own. This is not the case, however, and readers must make that distinction between the author and her characters, she said.

Recommendations for summer reading material come from a variety of resources, including students, faculty, alumni, administrators and parents. The First-Year Experience narrows these choices down based on the topics that are considered priorities for the campus community by other offices and departments.

Melito said the two main goals of the summer reading program are to celebrate the ongoing educational experience and to provide first-year students with a common intellectual experience. "A Gate at the Stairs" was chosen because it fulfills these requirements, she said.

"It highlights several of the College's institutional and intellectual priorities - the book looks at issues of race, inclusion, class, religion and identity," Melito said. "While we know that assigning one book cannot fulfill the college's goal of a more inclusive and tolerant community, our hope was that this book would become common ground for first-year students to start talking about these issues."

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