Introductions: Anthony Doerr

The evening of Wednesday, November 18, SAL Director Ruth Dickey introduced acclaimed writer Anthony Doerr to a buzzing, brimming auditorium, at Benaroya Hall.

Perhaps you, like me, were wary of All the Light We Cannot See. I picked it up because a friend recommended it and then was afraid to begin. A book about World War II was sure to be so dark. But, I trusted my friend and vowed to give it 50 pages. And then, I could not put it down. I fell head-first into this beautiful, haunting book, with its exquisite sentences and irresistible characters who illuminate the experience of World War II in nuanced and complicated ways. This gorgeous book became the book that I pressed into the hands of colleagues and friends and anyone who would listen. In reviewing it in 2014, the Washington Post said, “I’m not sure we will read a better book this year,” and a year later, I would say the same thing is still true.

Doerr’s writing career spans two story collections (The Shell Collector and Memory Wall), the memoir Four Seasons in Rome, and the novels About Grace and All the Light We Cannot See. He has won practically every literary award, including four O. Henry Prizes, four Pushcarts, the 2010 Story Prize, the Rome Prize, an NEA Fellowship, a Guggenheim, and the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

His fiction and nonfiction explore incredibly diverse worlds, from the horrors of civil war in Liberia to the building of the Three Gorges Dam in China, to the atrocities of the Holocaust, to the lives of a magician, a janitor and a hydrologist. Doerr’s loving focus and ear for the perfect detail illuminate these diverse subjects and invite the reader to understand them as complex, nuanced and, at turns, beautiful. In the title story from his first collection, The Shell Collector, he writes of the main character, “He had never comprehended the endless variations of design: Why this lattice ornament? Why these fluted scales, these lumpy nodes? Ignorance was, in the end, and in so many ways, a privilege: to find a shell, to feel it, to understand only on some unspeakable level why it bothered to be so lovely. What joy he found in that, what utter mystery.”

Anthony Doerr’s writing brings us this privilege – to understand on some unspeakable level why so many things bother to be so lovely – flowers, shells, sea creatures, radios, rocks, stories, humans. He creates worlds that transport us and lines that make us stop and marvel. What joy we can all find in that, what utter mystery indeed. Please join me in warmly welcoming the exquisitely poetic storyteller, the lyrical illuminator of things both seen and unseen, Anthony Doerr.

–Ruth Dickey

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