Graver Longlisted For Book Award
Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 14:10
A neat pile of ungraded student papers sits on professor Elizabeth Graver’s desk in Stokes Hall. Her latest novel, longlisted for the National Book Award, rests on her bookshelf near other literary classics—quite possibly those of her favorite authors: Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Bronte, and Toni Morrison. She has a colorful tapestry hanging on her wall as well as framed photos of her two daughters on display throughout her neatly organized office.
In a way, it’s a microcosm of her life, exhibiting the things that are important to her, the things that she dedicates her time to—and being at once a teacher, a writer, a traveler, and a mother, balancing this time is not easy for Graver.
The daughter of two academics, Graver always knew that she wanted to be a writer. “I kind of grew up on a campus, so it seemed like a natural fit,” she said confidently, “I’ve been writing since I was young, very young. And if you asked me at age seven what I wanted to be, I’m sure I would have said a writer.” She smiled reflectively before saying, “So, I guess, in some ways, the pieces have all always been there.”
Considering her successful literary career, there’s no denying that those pieces have certainly come together for Graver. Not only is she the author of four acclaimed novels (The End of the Point, Awake, The Honey Thief, and Unravelling), but she is also a highly regarded English professor at BC, where she teaches creative writing workshops, among other classes. A lover of traveling, she actually led one of her courses abroad in India for a summer.
Although she finds both teaching and writing incredibly rewarding, Graver explains that it’s sometimes difficult to dedicate herself equally to both professions. “Teaching, if you do it well, is a time consuming, intensive line of work,” she said, “so you do have to deliberately think about the way that you’re spending your time in order to find time.”
Folding her hands in her lap, she said, “I’m at a point in my life where I want to have a balance, but it does mean that you have to be kind of patient.”
Being patient with herself was especially important in the completion of her most recent book, The End of the Point, a fictional story about a family who has summered at Buzzard’s Bay for three generations. It’s a complex novel exploring both time and place, according to Graver. “It was probably my hardest and most ambitious project in some ways,” she said, “because this one covers more time and more points of view than my other ones did.”
Writing this book was also different for her because she didn’t try to rush herself through the process. “I was in more of a hurry when I was younger. Something about the pleasures of middle age,” she said with a chuckle, “I don’t know, made me feel like ‘I just want to write the best book I can,’ so I let it come together the way it needed to. And I decided not to push it.”
Despite the challenges that Graver had to overcome to write it, The End of the Point was well-received, one of the 10 books now on the “longlist” for this year’s National Book Award.
When discussing the nomination, Graver was beaming. “It was a lovely surprise because you have no idea how these things work,” she said, jubilantly throwing her arms in the air. “I found out on the Internet, believe it or not, and I was in the middle of teaching, so I got to celebrate with my workshop.”
Being nominated for the National Book Award is a great accomplishment, one that Graver could not have achieved without years of ceaseless writing practice. To be a good writer, she explained that such practice is key. She also advised that students read, take a range of literature courses, and explore—“doing things that take you out of your comfort zone—making you see and decipher the world in new ways.”
She said, moreover, that aspiring authors should learn to “let their creative process continue.”
“So, if you’re gardening, walking the dog, or swimming, learn to open your mind,” she said playfully. “Swimming is actually great for my writing, but it’s kind of inconvenient—because you can’t write anything down.”
Graver, lighthearted and passionate, offered one more recommendation. Quoting Henry James, she earnestly said, “Try to be someone on whom nothing is lost.” After a brief pause, she continued, saying, “This very sense of being open to the world—it’s just good advice—whether you’re a writer or not.”