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Pulitzer Prize Finalist Rebecca Makkai visits


National Bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize Finalist Rebecca Makkai visited St. Olaf on May 2 for the Claire Gilbert Marty Visiting Writer Series.


Makkai’s works explore heavy topics of conversation. Her Pulitzer Prize Finalist novel “The Great Believers” is set amidst the AIDS epidemic, and her most recent novel, “I Have Some Questions for You,” is a feminist crime story that examines racism in the criminal justice system.


The Claire Gilbert series was established in 2017 in memory of the late Claire Gilbert Marty ’10. The series occurs every other year, and the visiting writer is decided by a committee of English professors.


Professor Sequoia Nagamatsu was a part of this year’s selection committee, and he has known Makkai professionally for years. Nagamatsu’s first interactions with Makkai were on X — formerly known as Twitter — a space that has fostered connections between writers.


“Personally, I was really excited to invite her because I think she is a kind, good literary citizen,” Nagamatsu said. “Beyond just being a good writer and somebody that I think is an important writer, she’s somebody that has, for a long time, really championed other writers.”


Makkai’s community work includes serving as the artistic director at StoryStudio in Chicago, a nonprofit writing education center.


Nagamatsu said that excitement about Makkai’s visit to campus extended beyond the English department, in part due to her ability to connect with readers outside of literary academic circles.


During the event, Makkai read her short story “A Story for Your Daughters, a Story for Your Sons” — which was featured in “The Paris Review” — and selections from her New York Times Bestselling novel “I Have Some Questions for You.”


Following the readings, Makkai engaged in a Q&A with audience members who asked her questions about her novels and craft. The event ended with a book signing. 


Content Books, Northfield’s local bookstore, was also in attendance selling Makkai’s novels.


Earlier in the day, Makkai made a visit to Nagamatsu’s advanced fiction writing class. She discussed “I Have Some Questions for You,” which the class read, and answered questions about her writing process and career.


Nagamatsu pointed out the importance of bringing visiting professionals to speak on campus and in the classroom.


“It is helpful to have other voices speaking on a topic that may or may not be covered in our courses but also allows students to imagine themselves in that space,” Nagamatsu said. “What is it like to be a writer outside of St. Olaf’s walls? What is it like to be an editor or a literary citizen outside of St. Olaf? I think that is such an important vocational gift to the College.”


Makkai’s novel “I Have Some Questions for You” and short stories are available to check out at Rolvaag Memorial Library.


Note: Ainsley Francis is enrolled in Sequoia Nagamatsu’s advanced fiction writing class.

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