‘Matrix’ author to speak in Des Moines about writing

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.”

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