Author Lauren Groff was deep in the weeds on her newest novel, a Robinson Crusoe-esque tale she hoped to finish while a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University a few years ago.
But then her “brain exploded into rainbows,” as she’d tweet later.
While listening to a colleague’s presentation on medieval nuns, an entire story flashed through Groff’s mind, almost like a mystical vision. And this new narrative simply demanded her attention from her.
The resulting book, “Matrix,” follows 17-year-old Marie as she is cast out of the French royal court and sent to an impoverished abbey. But Marie is soon struck with her own mystical visions of her, leading her to enrich the abbey and transform it into a feminist utopia for her sisters.
Since the novel’s release in September, “The Matrix” has climbed the bestseller list and been shortlisted for the National Book Award — Groff’s third nod for the prestigious honor. On Thursday, Groff will appear as part of the Authors Visiting in Des Moines series to discuss the research and writing process for “Matrix,” including how much her own unique reverie impacted her main character’s fantasies.
“I just adore doing research for my books,” Groff wrote in an email. “My story-mind lights up when I glean small details that make the past come alive.”
Historical fiction is sometimes demeaned by the more literary minded, but Groff loves the genre’s ability to “speak to the contemporary moment.”
“There’s no such thing as an ahistorical novel,” she wrote. “Even books set in the future are steeped in the obsessions of the era in which they’re written.”
“A book is an extraordinary bit of time travel: It takes a contemporary human with an understanding of the past and the history of their art to make something that is intended for an audience that is sitting somewhere in the future,” she added.
Well-known for reading about 300 books a year and noting her opinions on a fastidious Excel sheet, Groff has always been an avid supporter of libraries.
She grew up just two blocks from the hulking stone library in downtown Cooperstown, New York, and was “given free range” as a child to lose herself in the stacks and shelves. Now, she lives two blocks from the Gainesville, Florida, library, which everyone in her family considers “a second home.”
“I wouldn’t be a writer without being a reader first,” she said. The “library is where I go to expand my understanding of the world.”
Courtney Crowder, the Register’s Iowa Columnist, traverses the state’s 99 counties telling Iowans’ stories. Her grandmother of her was a librarian. Reach her from her at email@example.com or 515-284-8360. Follow her on Twitter @courtneycare.
How to see Groff
Lauren Groff appears as part of the Authors Visiting in Des Moines series at 7 pm, Thursday at Franklin Junior High, 4801 Franklin Ave.
The event is free. Learn more at dmpl.org/lauren-groff.