MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We end today's show with "Bookend," our monthly look at D.C.'s literary scene. Today we bring you a conversation with Pulitzer Prize winner, Edward P. Jones, author of, "The Known World," "All Aunt Hagar's Children," and "Lost in the City." The book that first put Jones on the literary map. This month marks the 20th anniversary re-release of "Lost in the City." Jones talked with Jonathan Wilson about what the book means to him now.
MR. JONATHAN WILSON
In terms of looking back at how you wrote back then, do you notice things that you wouldn't do now if you wrote the same stories?
MR. EDWARD P. JONES
I think, the stories in "Lost in the City," are generally the length of typically stories. And I don't think I could ever go back to doing those. I find that I'm more interested in stories that read like novels, but still are maybe just a few pages longer than the stories in "Lost in the City," which is why you get the stories in "All Aunt Hagar's Children," are a tad longer and they are more complex and there are many more characters. So I can't see myself doing anything generally like I did in "Lost in the City." I was there and I did my best and now my brain is in a different place.
I've read some of the things you've said in previous interviews about your writing process. And I know you famously said that you spent 10 years on the known world, just in your own head before really writing too much down. You've also said that, as far as your next book, if nothing comes, nothing comes, then you will go on. Do you in some ways see your work as out of your control, as something that just comes to you and you can't really work on it or, I don't know, how do you characterize it?
You find, of course, that so many people that wake up in the morning have an idea for a story and they go with it before they even know what the conclusion will be. I don't particularly like asking myself what should come next. That conclusion is like a star in the sky and from the first word, I'm always traveling toward that star in the sky. It sort of keeps you -- as I've said, it keeps you honest. Because if you don't know where you're going to end up, then you find yourself all over the place. But if the star is there and you're moving toward that, it sort of keeps you on a better path.
So you never start with just simply a character that you like? You really have an idea of where the end of your story is going to be?
Yeah, I -- you know, you might be sitting on the Metro, you might be walking up and down the aisles of Safeway and all of a sudden in your head, for no reason, no reason whatsoever, a woman is walking out of a cornfield with a gun in her hand and behind her -- behind her in the cornfield is a house on fire. When she gets out of the cornfield, you can see blood on her dress and she goes up to a house, that the reader should know is not her house, she doesn't knock, she simply opens the door. Now, you have that and you can live with that for weeks or month or something, the whole thing is to try to find out the why of it.
And to come to some sort of logical and real conclusion. But, you know, I'm not in it to cure cancer so if I never come to a reason why the woman has blood on her dress and has a gun in her hand and all the rest of it, then the world will survive. But it's a challenge and in days when you do come up with a conclusion, it's fun.
Getting back to this first book that you've got published, and the fact that it's the 20 year anniversary, when you think about what ties those stories together and what it means to you now, I mean, what would you say to somebody who's arriving at that work, freshly, hasn't read any of your other work? What would you say to kind of give them a primer?
Well, yeah, the first book of stories, there are 14 and I didn't think that I would ever, you know, have a reason to revisit any of those people in those stories. And three or four years after the book came out, I started envisioning major and minor characters in "Lost in the City," having their own stories as well.
So I would, of course, want people to read both books but if you start with "Lost in the City," which you should do, read the first story and -- and then the first story in "All Aunt Hagar's Children," they're related in that way. And then the second story in "Lost in the City," and then the second story in "All Aunt Hagar's Children," all the way to the 14.
All right, Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize winning author of "The Known World" and "All Aunt Hagar's Children," and of course, "Lost in the City" which is now available with a new introduction written by the author himself to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its publication. Thank you so much for joining us on WAMU.
Thank you for inviting me.
The anniversary edition of "Lost in the City" is now available from Amistad Press in paperback. And if you're an Edward P. Jones fan, you can catch him, Saturday at 6:00 p.m. at Politics and Pros.
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jonathan Wilson, Jacob Fenston, Martin Di Caro and Lauren Landau, along with reporter Emily Kopp. Our acting news director is Memo Lyons, our managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Raphaella Benin. Thanks as always to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.
Our theme song, "Every Little Bit Hurts" and our "Door to Door" theme, "No Girl," are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website metroconnection.org, just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song. Also on metroconnection.org you can find our Twitter and Facebook links. You can read free transcripts of stories and if you missed part of today's show, you can hear the whole thing by clicking the This Week on "Metro Connection" link.
To hear our most recent episodes, click the podcast link or find us on iTunes. We hope you can join us next week when we'll bring you our annual Haunted D.C. show. We'll talk with a man who spent his childhood convinced he was haunted by the ghost of a young girl. We'll check out some of the spookier spots in historic Annapolis and we'll bring a spiritual medium to Fauquier County, Va., to visit a house whose previous and current owners both say they hear things going bump in the night.
And it wasn't until we'd lived here a few months that we started hearing things in the night and just wondering what else was in the house with us.
I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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