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Bookend: D.C. Native Elliott Holt Finds Acclaim With Debut Novel

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Author and D.C. native Elliott Holt
Rebecca Zeller
Author and D.C. native Elliott Holt

In this edition of Bookend, Jonathan Wilson sits down with debut novelist Elliott Holt. Holt's novel, You Are One of Them, is set both in Washington, D.C. — Holt's hometown — and in Moscow, where she worked for many years in the advertising industry. Metro Connection's Jonathan Wilson talks to Hold to find out just how hard it was for her to abandon a steady job to pursue her dreams, and why she felt like a fish out of water growing up in 1980s D.C.

On knowing she wanted to write fiction very early on:

"The report card said, 'Elliott says she would like to be a writer, and in the parent-teacher conference, Mr. and Mrs. Holt say she has always wanted to be a writer, which is funny because, you know, I was 7, but apparently, even then I think as soon as I knew it was a thing you could be, that's what I wanted to be. I never had a phase wanting to be an astronaut or a fireman. There's never anything else I wanted to be."

On risking everything to finish her first novel:

"That part is scary. I gave up my salaried, staff job in advertising to finish writing this novel. And there were definitely moments along the way of complete terror... On the other hand, it felt like less of a risk than it would have if, say, I had children, or something. I felt like I was only potentially ruining my own life, not anyone else's. I didn't have a mortgage, I didn't have children... I still don't have children, so it felt like a risk I could afford to take, and I just really thought I'd never forgive myself if I didn't really give it my all."

On the lack of fiction writing role models in 1980s D.C.:

"I think like a lot of people that grew up in the wake of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, I had a real reverence for journalists. I didn't know any fiction writers. I didn't know novelists in Washington. There's more of a literary community than there used to be."

Elliott Holt's favorite fiction:

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn
  • The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
  • The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  • Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
  • Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
  • The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
  • Stoner by John Williams
  • Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Author Elliott Holt’s advice for young writers growing up in D.C. today:

[Music: "Frostbit" by Oddissee from Odd Seasons / Show Close: "Safety Dance" by J Dilla from Donut Shop]

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