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Q&A: DBF author Ann Hood draws on her own experiences in “An Italian Wife”

Ann HoodAnn Hood’s novels plumb the depth of human emotion, charting the joys and pains of average lives. An author who has received recognition for short stories, essays and memoir, Hood is best known for her novels The Knitting Circle and The Obituary Writer.

Her newest book, An Italian Wife, is a century-long saga of an Italian American family. An exploration of immigration and assimilation, it is also an endearing portrait of a family bound together by tradition and love.

Hood will appear at the AJC Decatur Book Festival at 1:30 p.m. August 30 at the Decatur Presbyterian Sanctuary Stage. Drawing on her latest novel, she will present “The Weight of History,” addressing such themes as the ways one person’s choices can shape subsequent generations.

ArtsATL: An Italian Wife is composed of interconnected stories. Why did you choose to write this novel this way?

Ann Hood: My first novel, Somewhere off the Coast of Maine (1987), is a series of interconnected stories, so I have been drawn to this form from the start. For An Italian Wife, I didn’t intend to put these stories together. I’ve been writing them for 15 years, and some of them have even been published as short stories.

Whenever I had a deadline, instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing, I would say, “Oh, what is the family up to?” To me, there were always just “the family.” And I didn’t write the stories in chronological order. I would just ask myself, “What would one of the kids be doing in the 1970s? Or what happened after World War II?” Whatever question was in my mind about the family, I would write a story.

Last year, I wrote one and saved it to the folder I always do, and I noticed that I had 300 pages of stories. I threw two stories out because they were weak, and I put the others in chronological order to provide some cohesiveness. I sent them to my agent without identifying them [as] . . . a novel or short stories. I just asked her what she thought. She called me back and said, “When did you have time to write a novel?”

ArtsATL: What drew you to write about the immigrant experience?

Hood: The immigrant experience is my experience. I’m an Italian American. People are surprised when they hear this because I’m blond and have green eyes and don’t look like the typical Italian. I grew up very much like the teenagers in the last half of the book in the 1970s. I lived with my grandmother and my great-grandmother. My mother is one of 10 kids. I lived near my 20 first cousins, and they were always at my house.

An Italian Wife isn’t completely my story. I tried to make it more universal. But what I watched and absorbed growing up in this type family is the generational push and pull of the modern world and the Old World. That’s what I wanted to capture.

71fkqKl9lxLArtsATL: Many of your books are tinged with great sadness. Many include grieving or regret. Why do you return to these themes?

Hood: When I was younger, I, like most young writers, was working on a terrible novel. I made every beginning mistake. At the time, I was also working as an international flight attendant for TWA, but writing was my love. My brother died suddenly in a household accident, and I returned home for the summer. When I got back to New York City, I did the thing I usually did to find comfort. I started to write.

I looked at the novel I was working on, read it and said, “This isn’t about anything real. No emotional truth here.” I had 300 pages, and I put them all in the trash. Then I started writing what became my first novel.

This was the moment when I realized that to understand the world, you must understand what people feel. I always say that if something is keeping me up at night, then someone else out there is feeling it.

ArtsATL: Your writing takes many forms. Which is your favorite?

Hood: Novels. I am working on a new one now. Most of An Italian Wife was already written, so I just edited and organized it. This process gave me time to think about and dive into something new. It is my happiest time of day when I can say, “Oh good. I’m going to go write my novel.” I don’t know why. It takes years to do them. It’s just the most immersive, wonderful process for me.

ArtsATL: What’s your writing process?

Hood: I like to write during the day. I’m not a morning person, and I have all sorts of rituals that might look to other people like avoiding work, but they’re part of my process. I read the newspaper. I do the New York Times crossword puzzle. I do my email. I talk to my mother. I make my breakfast at 10, and then I say, “By 11, if I don’t get started, I won’t have enough time to write today.” Then I just go. I love writing from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.