Thursday, April 23, 2015

Anthony Doerr: 'I grew up where to call yourself a writer would be pretentious'

The novelist has just won the Pulitzer for All the Light We Cannot See, a book it took 10 years to write, which has given him his biggest audience yet

Anthony Doerr at a book fair in Saint-Malo, France.
Anthony Doerr at a book fair in Saint Malo, France. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images
It was Anthony Doerr’s wife Shauna who saw the news first. She was the one who was secretly streaming the Pulitzer ceremonies on YouTube in another room of their Paris apartment. He was in the kitchen with their son Owen, eating mint chocolate chip ice cream. She came in shaking and the phone started ringing, because he’d just won the Big Kahuna of American literary prizes: the Pulitzer for fiction.

“I’d sort of known it was the day,” Doerr said on the phone to the Guardian on Tuesday. But he was trying not to think about it, or expect the win. He had enough to be grateful for: even before the prize was announced he was already enjoying the greatest success of his career with All the Light We Cannot See.

The book has spent most of the last year on the New York Times bestseller list, and Doerr tells me now his readings are stuffed with a much wider variety of people than he used to draw. Doerr is the kind of writer who when asked about his influences readily cites Anne Carson and Cormac McCarthy. “Sometimes my readers ask me what else they should read,” he told me, “and I recommend Sebald.” But he’s never sure if the sort of reader this new book has attracted will enjoy Sebald as much as he does.

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