A Herald-Leader Q&A with writer Francine Prose

Francine Prose has written books, satire and news articles.
Francine Prose has written books, satire and news articles.

Writer Francine Prose has never visited the heart of Kentucky, but when told that her keynote address at the Kentucky Women Writers conference would overlap with a University of Kentucky home football game a few blocks away, she had just one question.

"Is there any sort of outfit people wear?" Prose asked.

The author of Blue Angel, a stinging satire on university politics and political correctness, and My American Life, which dissects American suburbia as if it's filleting a Real Housewives episode, will have top billing at the conference's traditional experienced writer/younger writer combination lecture at 8 p.m. Sept. 17 at Memorial Hall.

Prose, 64, also teaches. In her 2006 book Reading Like a Writer, she discusses whether creative writing can be taught and provides a list of 117 must-read books for writers; she includes the authors Flaubert and Flannery O'Connor.

Prose also has written magazine articles — including one on how to get your kids to eat vegetables, she notes — and numerous reviews.

During an interview by telephone from New York, Prose had other thoughts on writing, culture and politics, of which she is a keen observer.

Question: You've said that you became a writer because you were a reader. Do you still see people who want to be writers when they don't read that much themselves? What do you tell them?

Answer: I say, "I can't understand exactly why you want to do this, spend most of your life alone doing something that you're not sure until it's done whether anyone will understand or like." ... My students are huge readers. Obviously, readers are out there. ... This sort of crying about reading and the death of the book, I don't believe it.

Q: Your work has such a vigorous variety to it. Do you attribute that to longevity or tailoring your work to meet the demand of writing for a living — or both, or neither?

A: There are some things I don't think I would have written if I wasn't writing that way. ... I like to write, and I sort of internalize that compulsiveness. If you work long enough and hard enough, eventually you're going to get something written.

Q: Some of those attending your lecture will probably be surprised to find out that you have done reporting work as well as novels, reviews and teaching. You have said that reporting forces you to talk with people you might otherwise never have an opportunity to meet.

A: For better or worse, I don't do that kind of journalism any more. I am still out in the world and talking to people and hearing people's stories. ... I kind of miss it. There's only a certain amount of time, and you can only do a certain amount of things.

Q: Are you an Internet junkie, or do you think it's a distraction when writing?

A: In the aftermath of the hurricane, I had no Internet, and I was amazed by how much work I got done.