Pulitzer won by Maine native

Posted April 21, 2009, at 11:09 a.m.

A Portland native who set her novel in a fictional town on the Maine coast was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction on Monday.

Elizabeth Strout, who graduated from Bates College in Lewiston, won for “Olive Kitteridge,” her collection of 13 short stories set in the fictional coastal town of Crosby.

The characters in each short story are linked by the title character, a gruff seventh-grade math teacher who appears in every piece.

The Pulitzer judges commended her for work that “packs a cumulative emotional wallop” held together by the “blunt, flawed and fascinating” character of Kitteridge.

The novel also was a finalist for this year’s National Book Critics Circle award for fiction.

Strout grew up in Durham, N.H., and South Harpswell. She studied theater and English at Bates before graduating in 1977.

Now a New York City resident, Strout is a faculty member in the creative writing master’s degree program at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina.

She could not be reached Monday for comment.

Michael Kobre, director of the creative writing program at Queens, said Monday that Strout’s focus on small towns is one reason her work stands apart.

“In this particular day and in this culture, it takes a lot of bravery for a novelist to write about small-town life,” he said in a phone interview. “We live in such an edgy, media-saturated culture, but to choose to write about Olive Kitteridge is an exceptional choice to make. It’s terrific that it’s been recognized in that way.”

Strout’s two previous novels also have been set in fictional Maine and New England towns.

Strout researched her book “Abide With Me,” which takes place in a Maine town she named West Annett, at Bangor Theological Seminary. The book is set at the fictional Brockmorton Theological Seminary, a play on the real last name of the late Rev. Burton Throckmorton, a longtime theologian at Bangor Theological Seminary, and his wife, the Rev. Ansley Coe Throckmorton, former president of the seminary.

Her novel “Amy and Isabelle” takes place in a fictional New England town called Shirley Falls. Strout said in a 1999 Bangor Daily News profile that the book was more about Maine than anywhere else she had lived.

“What’s really interesting is that it took me years to realize that sense of place was so fundamental,” Strout said in that 1999 interview. “I mean, I’m from Maine. My parents were from Maine. Their parents were from Maine. In writing ‘Amy and Isabelle,’ I discovered my love for a sense of New England and that particular kind of town.”

Named finalists for the Pulitzer fiction prize Monday were “The Plague of Doves” by Louise Erdrich and “All Souls” by Christine Schutt.

Other winners in the arts Monday were:

Drama: “Ruined” by Lynn Nottage. Finalists: “Becky Shaw” by Gina Gionfriddo; “In The Heights,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes.

History: “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” by Annette Gordon-Reed. Finalists: “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War” by Drew Gilpin Faust and “The Liberal Hour: Washington and the Politics of Change in the 1960s” by G. Calvin Mackenzie and Robert Weisbrot.

Mackenzie teaches government and Weisbrot teaches history at Colby College in Waterville.

Biography: “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House” by Jon Meacham. Finalists: “Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt” by H.W. Brands and “The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century” by Steve Coll.

Poetry: “The Shadow of Sirius” by W.S. Merwin. Finalists: “Watching the Spring Festival” by Frank Bidart and “What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems” by Ruth Stone.

General Nonfiction: “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II” by Douglas A. Blackmon. Finalists: “Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age” by Arthur Herman and “The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe” by William I. Hitchcock.

Music: “Double Sextet” by Steve Reich. Finalists: “7 Etu

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