To round out our season of fabulous short stories, National Book Award-winning author Andrea Barrett joined The Center for Fiction for a discussion of her new collection, Natural History—named one of the Most Anticipated Books of 2022 by Literary Hub and the Millions. In Natural History, Andrea Barrett completes the beautiful arc of intertwined lives of a family of scientists, teachers, and innovators that she has been weaving through multiple books since her National Book Award-winning collection, Ship Fever. Gorgeously depicting connections between the natural world and the human heart, Barrett’s stories culminate to reveal how the smallest events of the past can have large reverberations across the generations. Writer Ruth Franklin (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life) joined Barrett in conversation.
By Andrea Barrett
Published by W. W. Norton
In Natural History, Andrea Barrett completes the beautiful arc of intertwined lives of a family of scientists, teachers, and innovators that she has been weaving through multiple books since her National Book Award–winning collection, Ship Fever. The six exquisite stories in Natural History are set largely in a small community in central New York state and portray some of her most beloved characters, spanning the decades between the Civil War to the present day. In “Henrietta and Her Moths,” a woman tends to an insect nursery as her sister’s life follows a different path. In “Open House,” a young man grapples with a choice between a thrilling life spent discovering fossils and a desire to remain close to home. And in the magnificent title novella, “Natural History,” Barrett deepens the connection between her characters, bringing us through to the present day and providing an unforgettable capstone.
Told with Barrett’s characteristic elegance, passion for science, and wonderful eye for the natural world, the psychologically astute and moving stories gathered in this collection evoke the ways women’s lives and expectations—in families, in work, and in love—have shifted across a century and more. Building upon one another, these tales brilliantly culminate to reveal how the smallest events of the past can have large reverberations across the generations, and how potent, wondrous, and strange the relationship between history and memory can be.
Andrea Barrett is the author of nine previous works of fiction, including the National Book Award-winning Ship Fever and Pulitzer Prize finalist Servants of the Map. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an NEA Fellowship, as well as a finalist for the Story Prize and a recipient of the Rea Award for the Short Story. Having lived in Rochester, New York, and western Massachusetts, Barrett now resides in the Adirondacks.
Photo Credit: Barry Goldstein
Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at the New Republic. Her book Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (2016) won numerous awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, and was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2016, a Time magazine top nonfiction book of 2016, and a “best book of 2016” by the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, and others. She is also the author of A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (2011), which was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Writing. Her criticism and essays appear in many publications, including the New Yorker, the New York Times magazine, the New York Review of Books, and Harper’s. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism.