STONINGTON — Sigrid Nunez is coming to Stonington.

Nunez, a New York City-based 67-year-old writer who "has been quietly writing and publishing books for the past 23 years," according to Alexandra Alter in The New York Times, will be the James Merrill Fellow for the months of December and January.

Nunez is a writer, says Alter, "who views writing as a sacred calling rather than an exercise in self-promotion and branding."

Nunez, who graduated from Barnard and Columbia, where she earned an MFA, has taught at Princeton, Amherst, Smith and Columbia, and has published seven novels, including "A Feather on the Breath of God," "The Last of Her Kind," and a book about Susan Sontag, "Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag." She received this year's National Book Award for fiction for her most recent novel, "The Friend."

"The Friend," which was also named a New York Times "Notable Book of 2018," has been called "a beautiful book … a world of insight into death, grief, art, and love," by the Wall Street Journal, and "... a world of insight into death, grief, art, and love," by NPR. It is a moving story of love, friendship, grief, healing, and the magical bond between a woman and her dog. 

When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, says the book cover, "she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind. Her own battle against grief is intensified by the mute suffering of the dog, a huge Great Dane named Apollo, traumatized by the inexplicable disappearance of its master, and by the threat of eviction: dogs are prohibited in her apartment building."

While others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, the woman refuses to be separated from the dog except for brief periods of time. Isolated from the rest of the world, increasingly obsessed with the dog's care, determined to read its mind and fathom its heart, she comes dangerously close to unraveling. But while troubles abound, rich and surprising rewards lie in store for both of them.

Elegiac and searching, "The Friend" is both a meditation on loss and a celebration of human-canine devotion.

I asked Nunez, who has written for The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review, Threepenny Review, and Harper’s, and has earned honors and awards including four Pushcart Prizes, a Whiting Award, a Berlin Prize Fellowship, the Rome Prize in Literature, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Foundation Award, five questions via email earlier this week, and despite this extraordinarily busy time of year, she took the time to reply.

1. How did you hear about the Merrill Fellowship?

From another writer who had applied there.

2. When did you realize that you were a writer?

I started believing that I’d grow up to be a writer when I was in grade school and discovered the fun of writing poems and making up stories. It helped enormously that teachers were very encouraging about my writing.

3. Who or what have influenced you the most?

All the many writers of all different kinds that I’ve read throughout my life.

4. I read somewhere that you called yourself a "hybrid" writer. Can you explain?

What I meant was that some of what I’ve written belongs to a hybrid genre: fiction that includes elements of other narrative discourse such as autobiography or brief meditations or reflections.

5. Did you model Apollo on a real doggie?

Not strictly speaking. I’ve had dogs in my life, including a Great Dane that belonged to my family after I’d left home and a dog that was half Great Dane when I was in my 20s. I used my observations of these and other dogs to write about Apollo. But he really is a creature of my imagination.

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Sigrid Nunez will give a reading and talk on Saturday 12 January, 5 PM @ the La Grua Center in Stonington. Free admission, all are welcome; first come, first seated.

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