Rebecca Makkai: The Distance Needed to Write a Story

RM-Blog-2“Fiction becomes interesting when a line is crossed,” said author Rebecca Makkai during the first public lecture of the 16th Annual Writers’ Workshop on October 3.

In her lecture Ms. Makkai addressed how she came up with the idea for her award-winning first novel, The Borrower, which is centered on the relationship between rebellious librarian Lucy Hall and 10-year-old book lover Ian Drake, whose parents are forcing him to attend weekly anti-gay classes. Kidnapping, followed by a road trip from Missouri to Vermont, and references to classic children’s texts are all facets of the plot in Ms. Makkai’s novel.

Ms. Makkai taught elementary school following graduate school when she encountered a nine-year-old student in her colleague’s class whose parents feared he was gay and were forcing him to attend anti-gay therapy. Ian Drake, the story’s protagonist, was born from the few interactions Ms. Makkai had with this student.

“I felt more upset by [his parent’s actions] than this veteran, jaded teacher,” said Ms. Makkai. “She kind of rolled her eyes.”


Noting young people have started most of the revolutions in history, Ms. Makkai said that in

her first year of teaching, “I wasn’t in any position to start a revolution, let alone worry about someone else’s student,” she said.

The best way to express her outrage, she explained, was to write a novel; and distance was the key to using such a personal experience.  “I could write about someone who, like me, had no permission to help, no right to get involved, but who, unlike me, did,” she said.

Ms. Makkai doesn’t know what happened to the boy who inspired her novel. But she hopes that other children find solace in the plight of her curious protagonist and audacious librarian.

Hundred-Year House, Ms. Makkai’s second novel, will be available in summer 2014.

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