Q&A: Anna Solomon
She may live in Providence, but Solomon took the inspiration for her Pushcart Prize-winning short story, “The Lobster Mafia Story”—about a Cape Ann woman dealing with a past crime—from her Gloucester upbringing. The Boston Book Festival picked it as 2012’s “One City, One Story” selection, with the goal of getting as many people as possible to read it, then discuss it with Solomon at the festival on October 27.
How’d your story get chosen for the book festival?
I think they found it in the Pushcart Prize collection, but there was no application process. I just got an email from them, and I was totally floored and thrilled about it.
So now literally every person in Boston is going to read it, right?
Well, I don’t know about that. Hopefully tens of thousands—they’re printing 30,000 copies. It’s a lovely little booklet and it’ll be distributed at T stations, libraries, and other public places around the city. There’s going to be a series of conversations at community libraries leading up to a town-hall-style discussion at the book festival.
If they were handing out my story on the T, I would ride all day just to watch people read it.
That would be fascinating to see the different kinds of people picking it up. Whether they talk to others about it—their expressions.
Admittedly, when I read the title, I thought of the Muppets sketch with the gang of bandito lobsters attacking the Swedish Chef and sort of hoped the story would be about an actual lobster mafia.
If I was a little more hip or ironic, that’s how it would have turned out. I’m generally overly earnest, so that’s not my style.
What did you originally write the story for? Where was it first published?
It was first published in the Georgia Review, which is a literary journal out of the University of Georgia. With short stories, you seldom write them for anything. You write them because you need to write it, and you hope that someone at some point will publish it. This story I worked on for many years, and it took on many different forms. I call it my beast.
How many years total were you working on it?
Oh my gosh! I would bet you that it’s seven. I wrote a novel in that time and many other stories. It’s not like I was working on this story every day, but in terms of the life of the story, it’s long.
What was so challenging? It’s meaty, but not particularly lengthy.
No, it’s never had to do with length. I think it’s because there’s a relationship between the present, with the narrator, and a past story in her life. It’s really a story of a story—it concerns itself with the power of storytelling and what it means to tell the truth, what it means to distort stories. How there really is no one version of a story and each person tells it in the way they need to. So structurally, it was very challenging to figure out.
One of the interesting things it deals with is jealousy and outsiders. There’s a guy in the story who everyone hates, but he seems pretty swell to me.
He’s an outsider, that’s what it’s about. I’ve always been fascinated by how—especially in New England—people draw stark lines between not just who is from here and who is from “away,” but who has been here for many generations versus who just came. My parents came to Gloucester, and they were Jewish, which was certainly to be an outsider there. Growing up, I would pick mussels and drive my little dinghy around the Essex River, and I felt very comfortable there. I felt like I belonged, and certainly my parents didn’t, so it was a kind of second-generation complex.
So all of this really sprung from growing up here.
I spent a tremendous amount of my childhood playing in and on the water and on the rocks. I think that influence and the place where I grew up definitely play an important role in my stories, whether I’m writing about Gloucester or I’m writing about other places.