Fri. Jan 21st, 2022


Anthony Doerr, 48, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and an Andrew Carnegie Medal for his novel All the Light We Can’t See. He also won five PEN / O Henry Awards for his short stories and essays.

What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
I am reading Cosmos by Carl Sagan and wanted to become an astronomer; I am reading Paper Lion by George Plimpton and became determined to be a returnee in the NFL. Then I read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild and decided I would be a postman in the Yukon. For a week that January, I slept with the window open to “prepare my body” for the cold, until my dad realized why the house was freezing and put an end to it.

Private school or public school? University or straight to work?
A private Montessori school where my mother taught school and from age 17 a small liberal arts college in Maine. I graduated at 21 and went to work in a salmon canning factory in Ketchikan, Alaska, where I worked 14-hour days, seven days a week. To say it was a culture shock would be a gross understatement.

Who was or still is your mentor?
In graduate school, I worked with a writer named Wendell Mayo who taught me what careful review really looks like. We sometimes spent a three-hour class exploring the decisions a writer made in a five-page story. Wendell died in 2019 and I think of him every day.

How physically fit are you?
I try to keep up with my kids on skis, so with winter approaching. . . not as fit as I could be.

Ambition or talent: what matters more to success?
Ambition. A discipline. And caffeine.

How politically committed are you?
I try to remember that our people have a lot more things in common than we are sometimes led to believe. We all use the same organs to moderate memory, fear and perception; we must all belong to a community – or multiple communities – to feel safe; and we all use story and ritual to create meaning from experience. We all want a safe, clean, stable home to raise our children. Political polarization has become so stressed that we sometimes have to work to remind ourselves that our political “opponents” are fundamentally just like us. For every thousand letters in your opponent’s DNA sequences, you have 999 which is exactly the same.

What would you like to own that you do not currently own?
The ability to sleep for eight hours straight without getting up to use the toilet.

What is your biggest extravagance?
Tea from Dammann Frères in Paris. I drink green tea when I write, and theirs spoiled me for just about anything else.

In what place are you happiest?
On any mountain in fresh snow.

What ambitions do you still have?
To keep trying to use storytelling as a way to remind readers of our myriad interconnections: with each other, the non-human world and the people who have not yet been born. But also to work a little less and be a little more outdoors.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
To help my wife raise two friendly boys who have deep connections with the living world.

What do you find most annoying in other people?
A lack of curiosity. Although I believe that every human being is naturally curious, sometimes we just need the right teacher – or we simply need to feel safe enough – to pique that curiosity.

If your 20 year old could see you now, what would he think?
“What happened to your hair?”

What object did you lose that you wish you had?
I prefer to get rid of stuff rather than build it up.

What is the biggest challenge of our time?
Climate change and Facebook.

Do you believe in an afterlife?
Not in terms of clouds and angels. That our bodies are built from elements forged during the death of stars, and our bodies become small decomposing islands that release nutrients into the surrounding ecosystem so that other organisms can thrive – that’s more than enough magic for me.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far out of 10, what would you achieve?
Ten.

Cloud Cuckoo LandBy Anthony Doerr is published by 4th Estate

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