BOOK FEST Q&A: LEIF ENGER

award-winner Minnesota novelist among highlights of upcoming literary fest

V1 Staff, photos by Robin Enger

IMAGE: ROBIN ENGER
IMAGE: ROBIN ENGER

Among the highlights of the annual Chippewa Valley Book Festival is hearing from regional writers whose talents have attracted national attention. This year, public radio reporter-turned-novelist Leif Enger of Minnesota is among this celebrated group. Enger’s debut novel, Peace Like a River, won an Independent Publisher Book Award and landed on best-of-the-year lists in the Los Angeles Times and Time Magazine. His second novel, So Brave, Young, and Handsome, was also a national best-seller and a Midwest Booksellers’ Choice Award Honor Book for Fiction, while his latest, Virgil Wander, was published last month. As part of the lead-up to the festival, which runs Oct. 21-27, Volume One is publishing Q&As with some of the featured writers. Here’s what Enger had to say about what he hopes to give to his readers, and what he is reading himself.

What would you tell your younger writing self? 

Your first draft is not a sacred text. The best sentence is usually a short declarative. And re-writing – taking a meandering paragraph and cutting it back, pruning the redundant and ornate until the idea becomes clear and beautiful – isn’t the chore it seems at first, but in fact the most satisfying part of the process. 

What do you hope readers learn from your books? 

More than any moral or social lesson, I wish for readers the easy pleasure of being swept up. Certain books are shelters I visit often, less for plot or instruction than for the company of Mattie Ross in Portis’ wind-scoured American outback, or Will Lightman in Hornby’s scraggy, striving London, or the talking beasts everywhere in Lewis’ Narnian wilds. If I can provide readers with anything, may it be the chance to abide with people they like, in a place they don’t want to leave. That would be enough for me.

What are you reading now? 

Mine are The Overstory, by Richard Powers, Chistopher Hitchens’ memoir Hitch-22, Graham Greene’s retelling of Cervantes in Monsignor Quixote, and Hotel Silence, by Audur Ava Olafsdottir. I usually have four or five going, to suit different moods and seasons, and to allow for the abandonment of disappointments.

What are your favorite reading and writing quotes? 

The screenwriter of Shadowlands, William Nicholson, said “We read to know that we are not alone.” That’s also one of the great reasons to write, to light a fire, pour a glass, make a place for conversation with others.


Leif Enger presentation as part of the festival, “The Optimist at Midnight,” will be at 7pm Wednesday, Oct. 23, in the auditorium at the Heyde Center for the Arts, 3 S. High St. Chippewa Falls. Learn more about this and other events at cvbookfest.org.

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