~from Michaela Hayes

Portrait of Lorrie Moore by Zane Williams
Image by Zane Williams

Lorrie Moore, born January 13 1957, is an American novelist and short story writer. She was born in Glens Falls, New York, and later attended St. Lawrence University, a small liberal arts college in Canton, New York. Like Sylvia Plath, she won Seventeen magazine’s annual fiction award at age 19. She obtained her MFA from Cornell University in 1983 and later published her master’s thesis, Self-Help in 1985.

As many great writers do, Moore also works as a professor of creative writing. She worked at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 30 years before leaving in 2013 to teach at Vanderbilt. She has also briefly taught at Cornell, the University of Michigan, Princeton, and NYU. Moore is not a household name, but her talent does not go unrecognized in the literary world.

Moore is an important woman to discuss during this wonderful month not only because her talent drips off each sentence, but because many of her stories feature young women facing struggles that many young women face — abusive relationships, infidelity, hopelessness in career, ect. — without feeling contrived or cheesy.

I have read two of her short story collections and one of her novels (Self-Help, Birds of America, and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?) and found that she weaves her words so carefully that each protagonist somehow embodies an entire person in 20 short pages. She has nailed down the psychology of womanhood in America so well that it is sometimes uncomfortable to read her works, like a friend calling you out for a quality you’d really rather avoid discussing.

Moore’s gift lies in her ability to create the most exceptionally lonely and witty characters — a strikingly lethal combination. She is also amazingly quotable. Like Steinbeck or Baldwin, she is one of those writers whose words I feel the need to copy down into my own notebook, just to digest them more fully. To end this piece, I will share some of my favorite Moore quotes.

“The world felt over to her, used up, off to one side. There were no more names to live by.” Birds of America, page 77.

“There were vows. I summoned forth all the force and promise and devotion I knew I had within me. It formed a large dense mass beneath my ribs.” Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, page 118.

“By then my parents had moved from Horsehearts to the east coast of Florida with my grandmother, who, when I visited, stared at me with the staggering, arrogant stare of the dying, the wise vapidity of the already gone; she refused to occupy the features of her face.” Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, page 124.