BOOK REVIEWS for the NY TIMES
THE BEST of BREVITY
Edited by Zoë Bassiard
and Dinty Moore
Twenty years on, flash nonfiction, endures largely because those who write it quickly mastered the craft.
Lori Soderlind is author of two memoirs: The Change (My Great-American, Postindustrial, Midlife Crisis Tour) and Chasing Montana (A Love Story). She is director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Manhattanville College.
Her writing has appeared in anthologies and journals; her essay "66 Signs" is included in the Norton Anthology of Best Creative Nonfiction. She has reviewed books for the New York Times and elsewhere.
Lori began her career in print journalism, working as a reporter, editor, and freelancer for newspapers and magazines across New Jersey and New York. After earning an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University, she worked as a city editor at the Times Union newspaper in Albany, NY, and taught writing at SUNY's Albany campus. She was also an adjunct professor at Columbia University and Western Connecticut State University and a professor of journalism at Norwalk Community College in Norwalk, CT, before taking her position as director of the Manhattanville College MFA program.
Regarding her love of carpentry, Lori was torn between being a
writer, a carpenter, or a rock star for much of her early life and finally settled on a career in the area where she felt she might actually have talent. This did not stop her from pursuing her other passions; she has been attempting and sometimes succeeding at renovating houses and barns for much of her adult life and is now practicing scales on her electric bass in earnest, hoping music might regain a place in her creative universe.
Like many creative people, the roots of these passions are easily traced to Lori's childhood. In first grade, two notable essays--one on Abraham Lincoln and one on the marriage of her two favorite stuffed animals, both mice--catapulted her to the sort of grammar school acclaim that sets one’s life course in an instant. Lori soon became a prolific writer of short stories, essays, diary entries, letters, and notes to her classmates, reaching what her mother has labeled her creative zenith in the sixth grade with the musical, “School House Patriots,” for which Lori wrote book, score and lyrics. Former classmates may also recall the school anthem Lori composed, “All Glory to Glenwood School.” Meanwhile, Lori displayed an early passion for making and fixing stuff. She completely remodeled her dollhouse in her basement workshop as a girl, where she also spent years attempting to build a functioning car using only wood scraps, tin cans, and found objects. In the same period, she enlisted the help of neighborhood boys in building a double-decker tree fort, piling spare sections of white picket fence against a tree and using mud packs in place of concrete. The boys walked off the job when they discovered Lori was a girl (well, duh) and the fort was torn down by her father before it was ever remotely inhabitable. Still, the project telegraphed her affinity for near-condemned properties, which she began collecting or coveting as an adult with her own real power tools.
After experimenting with a derelict lifestyle in high school to “gain material for my art,” Lori went on to study English in college, then followed her father’s footsteps into journalism—a field where she was able to actually earn a living writing about unusual bar mitzvahs, parachuting grandmothers and the weather. She briefly quit the newspaper world to work in a book store and in a wood shop and, when they fired her there (mainly, she thinks, for being a girl), she set off on the western adventure that would become her first book.
Her latest book, The Change, was the fruit of a long drive she took with her dog Colby, setting off to find "the most depressing places I could find in the country," Lori has explained, though she only had time to scratch the surface. Colby died peacefully at home shortly before his sixteenth birthday. Lori now lives in New York City with her Portuguese water dog Graci.