Where Big Books Are Born: Christine Schutt on Yaddo

by
Christine Schutt
2.14.18

I went to Yaddo to finish a novel, and I came close to the end. Then, in a burst, I wrote the epilogue. I had hoped that the great ghosts of Yaddo’s past would give me their blessing, and after a fashion they did. I found a link to them in fellow resident Romulus Linney, who took me for a drive around the area and pointed out places where important work had been hatched. We talked about his plays. We talked about playwriting and acting. We talked about his daughter Laura Linney and her performance in a brother-sister movie I liked very much. Our conversation inspired thoughts about a brother-and-sister story set in Los Angeles, the title to which came as suddenly as the epilogue. I expected quiet at Yaddo, and I found it. What I did not expect was the salubrious effect of such quiet: It made me more receptive to sound. Some sentences were plucked as from the air, like this one, when the only other sound was the owl: “Mrs. Pall-Meyer, short-waisted, stooped, breasts shrunk to teardrops, Mrs. Pall-Meyer was a dirty old woman, no matter she was rich.” The sentence needed only a place to go, which I found a few years later, in a story called “Oh, the Obvious,” which appears in Pure Hollywood.

Yaddo: Two- to eight-week residencies from November through May for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers on a 400-acre estate in Saratoga Springs, New York. Residents are provided with lodging, studio space, and meals. Next deadline: August 1. Yaddo, P.O. Box 395, Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866. (518) 584-0746. www.yaddo.org (Credit: Elizabeth Haynes)

Three Points of Productivity:
1. Something to prove. Yaddo thought I could do the work and that the work was worth doing, and to that end they gave me a place to sleep and space to work, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had no choice but to prove them right in backing my cause.
2. The food. The meals were consistently good, or I remember them that way, and the joy of not making lunch, just picking up my pail on the way to work. A sit-down dinner at a long table in a formal setting with informal, animated company was a pleasure.
3. The landscape. With some 440 acres to roam at Yaddo, I took long walks. I saw snapping turtles settled on the bank of the pond in the mornings and more than once a vixen and her cubs, and at night the owl made music.

 

Christine Schutt is the author of six books, including the story collection Pure Hollywood, published by Grove Press in March.