Born January 6, 1956, in Portland, ME; daughter of Richard (a science professor) and Beverly (a teacher) Strout; married Martin Feinman, August 14, 1982 (divorced); married Jim Tierney, 2011; children: (first marriage) Zarina. Education: Bates College, Lewiston, ME, B.A., 1977; Syracuse University, J.D., 1982. Avocational Interests: Rollerblading. Memberships: National Writers Union, Authors Guild. Addresses: Home: New York, NY, and Brunswick, ME. Office: Bard College, P.O. Box 5000, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504-5000. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, International Creative Management, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
Writer and educator. English and literature teacher, the New School, New York, NY, and Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; Manhattan Community College, New York, NY, adjunct instructor; Colgate University, Hamilton, NY, National Endowment for the Humanities lecturer; Queens University, Charlotte, NC, instructor. Former pub worker, house cleaner, secretary, cocktail waitress, artist's model, and Elderly Abuse project worker; former staff attorney, Legal Services, Syracuse, NY.
Heartland Award, Chicago Tribune, 1999; Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, Los Angeles Times, 1999, for Amy and Isabelle; Pulitzer Prize for fiction, 2009, and Premio Bancarella, 2010, both for Olive Kitteridge; honorary doctorate, Bates College, 2010; O. Henry Prize, 2015, for "Snowblind."
- Amy and Isabelle, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
- Abide with Me, Random House (New York, NY), 2006.
- Olive Kitteridge (stories), Random House (New York, NY), 2008.
- The Burgess Boys (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 2013.
- My Name Is Lucy Barton, Random House (New York, NY), 2016.
- Anything Is Possible (stories), Random House (New York, NY), 2017.
Also author of screenplay for television movie Amy and Isabelle, based on the author's novel; fiction has appeared in numerous periodicals, including the New Yorker, Redbook, New Letters, and Seventeen.
Amy and Isabelle has been made into an audiobook, Chivers Audiobooks, 2000, and a television movie produced by Harpo Films; Olive Kitteridge was adapted for an HBO miniseries.
In her first novel, Amy and Isabelle, Elizabeth Strout tells the story of Amy Goodrow, a high school student in the 1970s who has a strained relationship with her mother Isabelle since being found in a compromising situation with her math teacher. For her part, Isabelle also has secrets from her past concerning her husband and family. In the meantime, Isabelle seeks a quiet life in contrast to the burgeoning women's movement of the day and hopes to one day fall in love with a "good" man.
Carol Anshaw, writing in the Women's Review of Books, noted: "The novel, like Isabelle, is old-fashioned in form, told by an omniscient narrator privileged not only to every character's innermost thoughts and hidden pasts, but also to futures they can't yet see." Anshaw went on to write that "the novel surprises with the familiar." A Publishers Weekly contributor called the story "beautifully nuanced."
Abide with Me takes place in the 1950s and focuses on a recently widowed minister, Tyler Caskey, who struggles with life and his faith as he deals with his parishioners' numerous problems, foibles, and hidden vices. To complicate matters, Tyler, who is also coping with a troubled daughter, becomes the object of town gossip concerning an affair he may be having with his housekeeper.
"Strout's deadpan, melancholy prose powerfully conveys Tyler's sense of internal confinement," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel "a melancholy tale of faith lost and found."
Strout's third novel, Olive Kitteridge, is sometimes described as "a novel in stories" because the various components can stand alone or function as part of a larger whole. While most of the stories are not about the title character, a somewhat abrasive, aging former math teacher living in a coastal town in Maine, she appears (or is at least mentioned) in each of them. Strout chose the decentralized approach in order to demonstrate the many facets of Olive's character. "I deliberately did that," she told interviewer Robert Birnbaum on the Morning News Web site, "because I think that Olive is such a complicated character that in order to see it from different points of view--the way I chose to construct the book--I did that to give people a break from the full-front effect of her, and also because it helps me, and I think it helps the reader, understand that we're all more complicated that we appear. There are different aspects of Olive, and these different ways to look at her, I think, help to bring that out." She "is a complicated person," agreed Susan Whitney, writing in the Deseret News. "She's impatient and too sharp-tongued, too often angry. But she is also deeply compassionate."
Critics have agreed that Strout sensitively evokes the sense of small-town life throughout Olive Kitteridge. "The tales recounted in Olive Kitteridge "could be considered a twenty-first-century version of Our Town with its moving portraits of regular folks in a fictional small town on the coast of Maine," wrote John Marshall in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "The difference is: These are not the timeless archetypal characters seen in Thorton Wilder's fictional Grover's Corners, N.H. Stout's residents of her fictional Crosby, Maine, are fully realized characters in this time and place over recent turbulent decades." "The curse of small towns is that everybody knows everybody else. The local townspeople who appear in stories of Olive Kitteridge are not immune from town gossip and the nosy neighbors," opined Nicole Chvatal, writing for the Oregonian. "The characters are often sad, broken, scared and insecure--none more so than Olive." In Strout's fictional New England town, "lives intersect frequently, and secrets are few and far between--spouses have affairs, children unhappily run off to the big city, old men develop dementia--and everybody knows about it," wrote Deirdre Fulton in the Portland Phoenix. "Their stories, told in a chronology that freely skips and backtracks, read like a cross between a community newspaper's gossip-page archives and a collection of padlocked diaries." "Like Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, this novel in stories captivates us because the characters are so human, the place so vivid," declared Ann Cummins in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Funny, wicked and remorseful, Mrs. Kitteridge is a compelling life force, a red-blooded original. When she's not onstage, we look forward to her return. The book is a page-turner because of her."
Strout's next book, The Burgess Boys, was published in 2013. Though the book is set in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, the protagonists are from Strout's native Maine. In an interview with Zack Dionne for the Vulture Blog, Strout explained why she chose to write about her home state. She stated: "I'm very interested in writing about Maine, because I think Maine represents its own kind of history. It's the oldest state, and it's the whitest state. In that way it's kind of representative of everything that's changed in this society, the changes that have taken place more quickly in other parts."
The brothers, Bob and Jim, are from Shirley Falls, but both work as attorneys in New York. Jim is rich and driven, and he works for a well-known corporate law firm. Bob, on the other hand, lives a more modest life and works for Legal Aid. The Burgess family was gossiped about in their small town because Bob, as a four-year-old, accidentally released the parking brake in his parents' car, and the car ran over and killed his father. Bob still feels guilty about the accident. Their sister Susan, an anxious divorcée who still lives in Shirley Falls, calls Jim and Bob home to help her deal with her teenage son, Zachary. Zachary is accused of throwing a pig's head into a Somali mosque during the time of Ramadan. He must now stand trial for a hate crime. The point of view sometimes switches to that of a Somali man who owns a local café. He is bewildered by the racism he experiences in America. Other characters enter into the story, including Jim's neurotic wife, Helen, and Bob's ex-wife, Pam. Tensions between the sibling arise, and Bob finalize stands up to his brother after being pushed around by him for all of his life.
"Strout handles her storytelling with grace, intelligence, and low-key humor, demonstrating a great ear for the many registers in which people speak to their loved ones," wrote Sylvia Brownrigg, a contributor to the New York Times Book Review. A writer in the New Yorker commented: "Strout's prose propels the story forward with moments of startlingly poetic clarity." A Publishers Weekly critic opined: "The familiarity of the novel's questions and a miraculously disentangled denouement drain the story of depth." A writer in Kirkus Reviews described The Burgess Boys as "a skilled but lackluster novel that dutifully ticks off the boxes of family strife, infidelity, and ripped-from-the-headlines issues."
My Name Is Lucy Barton tells of an interaction between the titular character and her estranged mother at Lucy's hospital bedside. In an interview whose transcript was posted on the National Public Radio Web site, Strout told Terry Gross: "I am very interested in mothers and daughters, and I've written about them before, although I've always written about different mothers and different daughters. So I was--you know, obviously I'm drawn to that, and I think it's because, you know, it's such a primal relationship. It's the way we first see the world--most of us. So I was very interested in this particular mother. She sort of arrived at the foot of that bed and was pretty accessible to me as a writer." Strout commented on her intentions for the book in an interview with Barbara Hoffert in Library Journal. She stated: "I hope readers can look at this book and, with the momentary thoughtfulness that we can get through literature, recognize that they know somebody who came through those class lines."
Hannah Beckerman, reviewer on the London Guardian Web site, asserted: "My Name Is Lucy Barton confirms Strout as a powerful storyteller immersed in the nuances of human relationships, weaving family tapestries with compassion, wisdom and insight. If she hadn't already won the Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge, this new novel would surely be a contender." "Strout hasn't written a ghoulish kind of domestic thriller; there's no big reveal at the end. What she has written, instead, is a gorgeous, upsetting portrait of a terrorized child, for whom even happy moments are fraught with guilt, anxious watchfulness, and fear," wrote Fernanda Moore in Commentary. " A near perfect, wholly heartbreaking novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton concedes that sometimes the best we can hope for is acceptance, not reconciliation," remarked Rachel Giese in Chatelaine.BookPage contributor Alden Mudge suggested: "Strout ... has written a profound novel about the human experience that will stay with a reader for a long, long time." Writing in Booklist, Joanne Wilkinson described the book as "a compact novel brimming with insight and emotion." "Strout's ... tender and moving novel should be read slowly, to savor the depths beneath what at first," remarked a Publishers Weekly critic.