Interview with Jennifer duBois

I met Jennifer duBois because she is an amazing author and teacher. It all started when I was picking up my “held” books from the library. They have wisely placed the New Books shelf next to the front desk. “A Partial History of Lost Causes” caught my eye because of the interesting title.

I loved the book! It had everything that keeps me mesmerized – history, multiple view points, in depth character development and historical information that was new to me. As is my habit, I looked up the author and sent an email. (Susan Rushton taught me that authors love feedback!) On Jennifer’s website I found out she was winner of the Stegner Fellowship to the Stanford Creative Writing program and was now teaching and running workshops. Hurray! I could take a class from her. Stanford is only a three hour drive from me. Workable.

I ended up with private tutoring. A relationship which has moved me forward to a new level in my own journey as a writer.

Thank you Jennifer, and thank you for the interview.

 A bit about Jennifer:

Jennifer duBois’s A Partial History of Lost Causes was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction; won the California Book Award for First Fiction, the Northern California Book Award for Fiction, and a Whiting Writer’s Award; and was honored by the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 program. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a former Stanford University Stegner Fellow, duBois currently teaches in the MFA program at Texas State University. Her second novel, Cartwheel, was published by Random House in September.

What inspired you to start writing? How long have you been writing? What about your latest book/story?

I think I’ve been writing/making up stories, at least sporadically, for pretty much my entire life. I was always happy for any chance to write creatively–in grade school, high school English class, college–but didn’t begin to try to make writing the center of my life (or even to consider this was really possible for me) until I was admitted to graduate school. I’d applied to Iowa on a post-collegiate whim (and it was one whim among several), but getting in was so shocking and validating that it made me start to wonder if maybe writing wasn’t just a favorite hobby for me–if maybe it was something more. Since then I’ve been able to keep writing fairly steadily. Cartwheel took about two and a half years.cartwheel

What influenced the way you tell a story?

That’s an interesting question, and something I could probably spend my whole life trying to figure out. In my reading, I think that I was initially most drawn to voice–that sense of being addressed by an authentic, idiosyncratic consciousness–and later on, my first attempts at writing fiction were essentially exercises in voice. And in my novels I seem to be interested in exploring how different people view the same event through different prisms, or the way that the same moment or individual can spawn a whole array of different interpretations depending on who’s doing the interpreting. This is a phenomenon I’ve witnessed a good deal in my own life, but I think probably everyone has. So I’m not sure it really answers the question of why I like to write about it–or why I like to write at all, for that matter.

How do you approach the art of writing?

I’m happiest when I’m writing nearly every day, but I’ve never been religious about any particular regimen or schedule. I’m lucky in that I can write almost anywhere–coffee shops, airplanes, etc.–and, once a project is underway, I can make use of even pretty limited amounts of time. But I’ve also been very fortunate in that I’ve been allowed to place writing at the center of my life for the past six years–I’ve really been able to regard it as a part-to-full-time job, and allow it to occupy that sort of space. Now that I’m teaching full-time, I’m finding that my old approach doesn’t work anymore–between teaching and marketing for Cartwheel’s launch this semester, I just could not figure out where the writing was supposed to go. It’s remarkable to me how bad I feel when I’m not writing, though I guess the upside is that it confirms for me that I made the right choice with my life–it would probably be a whole lot worse if I had no time to write and found I didn’t miss it.

What do you read for pleasure? Growth? Latest recommend? Favorite author?

I like to read a blend of fiction and non-fiction, and I usually read a couple of books at a time (though reading, like writing, has gotten hard to find time for lately). Right now I’m really enjoying The Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson, and George Saunders’ Tenth of December was probably the last book of fiction I read that I really adored. My favorite literary author is Vladimir Nabokov.

partial-history-lost-causesYou have written two great novels – but both are quite different. Do you have a “favorite part” of “A Partial History of Lost Causes” or “Cartwheel”?

Thank you! It’s strange to think about a favorite part of one’s own books, but I do remember with special fondness those parts that were particularly entertaining or meaningful to write. I had lots of fun with the character of Lars in Partial History and the character of Sebastien LeCompte in Cartwheel (maybe a little too much fun, in both cases). I tended to find it very energizing to write about the Russian setting in Partial History, and in Cartwheel I always enjoyed being in Lily’s perspective because she was generally a bit happier and more attuned to beauty in the world than the other characters were. And writing the ending of both books was pretty emotionally affecting for me, though that probably speaks more to the marathon-completion aspect of finishing a novel than to anything else.

Be sure to visit Jennifer’s website!


  1. Nice interview, Robin. I like your questions as they are above the usual!
    I loved “A Partial History of Lost Causes”. Thanks for the reminder to read her next one.

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