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Alice McDermott

  • American writer
  • Born June 27, 1953

Alice McDermott (born June 27, 1953) is an American writer and university professor. For her 1998 novel Charming Billy she won an American Book Award and the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.McDermott is Johns Hopkins University's Richard A. Macksey Professor of the Humanities.


It worries me that undergrads and high school students are forced into books they aren't ready for, like Faulkner's, and then they are afraid of putting their toes in the water again.




As a writer, you have to put yourself in service to the character, get behind their eyes by delineating the world where the character develops. You have to listen to the character and see him inside his certain world to know what conclusions he would draw.




What interests me is whatever it is that allows the heart to continue to yearn for something the intelligence knows is impossible to have: a lost love, a shelter from life's blows, the return of a time past, even a connection to the dead.




I've got to hear the rhythm of the sentences; I want the music of the prose. I want to see ordinary things transformed not by the circumstances in which I see them but by the language with which they're described. That's what I love when I read.




The thing that fiction can do is look from the inside out rather than from the outside in. Even memoir leaves me somewhat frustrated. I think now we need a poet to uncover what isn't on the surface.




Family dynamics are true over time, across generations and different cultures.




Any adjective you put before the noun 'writer' is going to be limiting in some way. Whether it's feminist writer, Jewish writer, Russian writer, or whatever.




I believe that the interior life is the same for all of us. And because they're steeped in faith, Irish-American Catholics are a people who have a language for the examined life.




Character is primary. What happens as far as plot and events is not as intriguing to me as what's happening inside this particular person.




For immigrant generations especially, family is the first structure, or shelter, for a people who are in exile.




I have not won far more awards than I have won.




For me, having characters who are part of a faith then allows me to talk about how that faith either works or fails them without having to attack the institution.




At the beginning of every semester, I ask my graduate students whether there is something I should read that will help me understand their work.




Our task as fiction writers isn't just to report something that didn't really happen. We have to give what we write a sense of reality. The tool of our tradition is language.




I think place and time for me is often a matter of convenience, something I can use to another end rather than something I'm trying to define because it's somehow fascinating to me in itself. It's more what the place can do for the larger goals I have for the work.




Being Irish-American myself, Irish-American material is readily at hand to me.




I love a well-plotted story. But I'm just not that kind of writer, and it's not necessarily by choice. When I manipulate plot, I feel I lose authenticity.




I think a misconception among many non-religious people is that anyone with a strong faith is, in all ways and at all times, blindly consistent, unwavering, unquestioning.




A perfect poem you can't pin down and say, 'This is exactly what it meant to me.' It's not a self-help manual.




Read everything. Write all the time. And if you can do anything else that gives you equal pleasure and allows you to sleep soundly at night, do that instead. The writing life is an odd one, to say the least.




My own 'sentimental favorite' is always the novel I haven't yet written - I suppose that's the one I consider my 'masterpiece' as well.




My parents were both first-generation Irish Catholics raised in Brooklyn.




I believed in fictional characters as if they were a part of real life. Poetry was important, too. My parents had memorized poems from their days attending school in New York City and loved reciting them. We all enjoyed listening to these poems and to music as well.




I learned really early on that I had to treat it as if it were a real job. This might be my middle class background - the Irish work ethic, which isn't quite the same as the Protestant work ethic - but still, it's, 'Get a job and show up every day. Be there. And don't complain. Who do you think you are: you're nobody special; go to work.'




Publishing a short story can sometimes feel like shouting into the dark... your words come out, and then nothing... but I don't think that's why I tend to write novels rather than stories.




I do have friends in Pittsburgh, and I had some wonderful experiences there.




I was one of those kids who always wrote.




Memory is not pure. Memories told are not pure memories; memories told are stories. The storyteller will change them. I've always been interested in that.




I think it's handy for a dramatist of any sort, if I can call myself that, to make use of weddings and wakes, to make use of those moments and those rituals that cause us to pause and look back or look forward and understand that life has changed.




I am not a theologian or a historian, and I feel no call to become a defender of the faith, so in my case, the search for what remains valuable focuses on language itself: Catholic prayer, ritual, the naming of things.




I've always believed you go to literature to find the shared human experience, not the categorized human experience.




I'm always telling my students, don't - don't worry so much third person, first person. It doesn't make that much difference.




I don't want to write about violence, and I don't want to hang a plot on a murder. I think it's cheap.




Some readers sort of suspect that you have another book that you didn't publish that has even more information in it. I think that readers sort of want to be taught something. They have this idea that there's a takeaway from a novel rather than just the being there, which I think is the great, great pleasure of reading.




I'm a coastal person. I grew up in Long Island and lived in San Diego. I felt landlocked in Pittsburgh. Psychically, it just wasn't the place for me.




Any fiction writer who assumes that a character is typical no doubt runs the risk of stumbling into cliche and stereotype.



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