The Atlantic's February short story
February 11, 1999
Rarely, one must assume, does one's path to fiction writing begin amid the study of bugs. But such was the case for Beth Lordan, the author of this month's short story, "The Man With the Lapdog." Lordan worked as a secretary in Cornell University's department of entomology for fourteen years, during which time -- despite her encounters with the sometimes ungrammatical and relentlessly pragmatic sentences of scientists -- she discovered an attraction to short-story writing. In 1984, after a stint in the classics department, she traded her secretary's desk for a student's pen, enrolling in Cornell's graduate writing program. She was thirty-seven years old and a mother of three.
Lordan has previously published three stories in The Atlantic: "Running Out" (May 1986), her first published piece of fiction; "The Widow" (August 1987); and "The Dummy" (August 1996). She has also published two books -- (1989), a novel, and a novella and six stories, which was one of The New York Times Notable Books of 1998. A product of small towns in the northeast, Lordan writes lyrically of the interdependence, warmth, tensions, and limits of small-town living, and pays particular attention to the mystery she senses underlying the air of familiarity among inhabitants of such communities. A 1993 recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, she now teaches fiction writing at Southern Illinois University, where she was named director of the creative-writing department in 1992.
Lordan spoke recently with The Atlantic's Allan Reeder.