Six minutes after picking up the telephone in her London flat Wednesday evening and learning that she had won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Alison Lurie pondered what difference it would make.
"I don't know," she said, "because I have never had one."
Perhaps, Lurie added, the prize would cause more people to read her latest novel, "Foreign Affairs"; perhaps more people would recognize her name.
The prestigious prize, however, will not affect her writing, she said. Since the success of her 1974 novel, "The War Between the Tates," she has had the freedom to write about what she pleases. In recent years, this has included children's books and even a book on clothing.
A woman for whom conversation usually amounts only to a few sparse sentences, Lurie, 58, describes herself as driven to writing. Early in her career, after her first novel had been rejected by a half-dozen publishers, she deliberately tried to break "the habit of writing."
A native of Chicago, and raised in Westchester County, New York, Lurie has made her home here since the mid-1960s. She is a professor of English at Cornell University, and many of her novels have been set in this small upstate town of 28,000. "It's easier to do this than it is to invent details of a whole new geography," she once said.
The apparent similarity between many of her fictional characters, usually members of Corinth University's faculty, and leading personalities at Cornell have intrigued Ithaca; a popular game among students for a decade has been to guess who they are. Lurie has said that they are composites, but at least one faculty member has been miffed for years because he believes he was a model for one of her protagonists.
In "Foreign Affairs," Lurie reassembled her Corinth cast in a new setting. Two members of the faculty, one young and one middle-aged, spend a semester in London and learn a great deal more about love than about their intended scholarly pursuits. It is her seventh novel published since her debut novel, "Love and Friendship," was published in 1961.
Lurie, the mother of three grown sons, is divorced. She is completing a two-month stay in London, and said she won't disclose what next she has in store for her Corinth cast. In fact, Lurie said, "I don't say what I'm working on because it is bad luck."
Among Cornell students, Lurie's courses have been popular. She refuses to respond to anyone who addresses her as "Professor Lurie" and serves tea and cookies during her three-hour afternoon seminars. The short, silver-haired author honors the best writing in her course by reading it to the class and awarding its author a prize -- usually a book.
In 1979, when publishers sought to ensure that the National Book Awards would go to books that sell rather than books that shine, Lurie called on authors to boycott the awards.
The publishers changed their minds and Lurie said the prize was not corrupted. She said that she would gladly accept the Pulitzer Prize.