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Fiction Pulitzer Prize Winner Elizabeth Strout Talks Writing, 'Olive Kitteridge'

(By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
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So: No television.

No newspapers.

No parties, no dates, no hanging with friends and, as Strout wrote in a recent Washington Post Magazine essay, just two movies before she got to college: "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" and "The Miracle Worker."

Small wonder that within this enforced isolation, Strout's mother -- now 81, with whom Strout still has "an intense and complicated relationship" -- became her world.

"There wasn't a sense of having too much of a separate life from my mother's feelings," she says.

As soon as Strout learned to read and write, her mother bought her notebooks and told her: Put down what you see. Also important, for a future fiction writer, were the people-watching games they played.

"She had an interest in people, particularly if she didn't know them," Strout says, and together they imagined lives for strangers encountered around town. "It seemed to me, from a very early age, that nothing was ever as fun as that."

Strout knew from childhood that writing was her future. Wasn't that what her mother was encouraging? Didn't she teach writing in high school? Wasn't it clear that she herself wanted to write?

"It was just in the air," Strout says. "She was always talking about writing."

Yet she never wrote.

Strout doesn't know the reason. They didn't discuss it. Still, she ventures a guess: The act of writing "requires some element of revealing oneself," she says, and that was something her mother "probably didn't want to do."

And why was that?

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