Barrett is the first-place winner in the general fiction category of the 2011 Florida Book Awards, announced last month. The recognition was for her collection of short stories, Magpies. The New Jersey native received her bachelor's in English from Mount Holyoke College and her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. We caught up with the author as she traveled through Northern California while on a one-year sabbatical from her position as a professor in the MFA program in creative writing at Florida International University. She will read from and sign Magpies on April 16 at Inkwood Books in Tampa.
What's on your nightstand?
I always have a stack of books. I like reading a variety, and I tend to read a lot of collections. I've got A Kind of Flying by Ron Carlson. I keep going back to Ron Carlson. It's his fullness of character and the world and, at the same time, his characters take surprising turns. I think, for me, I can say that about William Trevor and Colette, too.
And what else in on your nightstand?
Numbers in the Dark: And Other Stories by Italo Calvino, with Glaciation being my favorite. A Warning to the Curious by M.R. James. It's a collection of ghost stories. I've got the novel Night Swim by Jessica Keener, Susan Orlean's Rin Tin Tin and Jessica Kerwin Jenkins' An Encyclopedia of the Exquisite. It has different entries pointing out something she deems exquisite, the beautiful and the sublime. So, with my nightstand, I think by reading things in juxtaposition. It frees me up to reinvent myself. I like to include something that is older, something that is contemporary and that sort of thing.
Can you mention another go-to writer?
Colette, and my favorite short story by Colette is The Hand, and then I also love her long story Belle-Vista.
Why do you choose to write short stories?
I like to think that it's about the quality of everything you thought was there, and how it turns upside down. It's how the main character, the (point of view) character had his or her world understood, but then how it is goes upside down. There's such a pleasure and completeness in the compact size of a short story.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer