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Pulitzer Winner Jennifer Egan Talks Writing at Drew

‘Being lifted out of my life into another world.’

November 2018 – A sense of time and place sparks the novels of Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan.

Egan, speaking at Drew University, said that New York City during World War II was the inspiration for her 2017 best seller, Manhattan Beach.

In her research, the author learned about the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where warships were built and repaired—often by women, because so many men were fighting overseas.

“I really wanted to write about women working in the Navy Yard,” said Egan, a guest of the Writers@Drew series, which is supported by the Casement Fund and the English Department and coordinated by Assistant Professor Courtney Zoffness.

After immersing herself in that world and developing what she called a “secondary memory bank” for the setting, Egan began writing longhand in her usual “improvisational” way, unsure who her characters were and what they would do.

“I do not have a plan or outline. I just starting writing and see what happens,” she said. This method works for her, she added, because “the ideas that my conscious mind can come up with are simply not good enough. I’m looking for things I can’t think of.”

The book, which earned the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, centers on a young woman who becomes a diver so she can repair ships underwater and the Brooklyn gangster she meets.

More broadly, Egan reflected on her love of writing fiction: “I do this in part for the transcendent sensation—which I think all humans crave—of being lifted out of my life into another world.”

The author of six books of fiction, Egan also writes nonfiction features for the New York Times Magazine and other publications. She earned her Pulitzer in 2011—for A Visit from the Goon Squad, which also earned the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the LA Times Book Prize. In addition, Egan is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction and a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library.