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Book prize preview: Stewart O'Nan

April 4, 2008 |  3:30 pm

Lastnightatthelobster Stewart O'Nan's "Last Night at the Lobster" is among the nominees for the L.A. Times Book Prize for fiction.

Recently, O'Nan, a Pittsburgh native, spoke to Hot Metal Bridge, the literary magazine at the University of Pittsburgh.*

Hot Metal Bridge: Some have called you “the bard of the working class.” Is this a title you embrace, or are these readers off the mark?

Stewart O’Nan: I think the only person who’s ever called me that is my editor, trying to put together some sort of fetching jacket copy. I write about average people, but I hope they’re from all classes and all walks. Certainly I’ve paid a lot of attention to people with low-paying jobs in books like "The Lobster" or "The Good Wife" or "Everyday People," but the other two books around those are "Wish You Were Here," about an upper-middle-class family, and "The Night Country," which takes place in the high-end suburbs of Connecticut.

HMB: Most of your books are grounded by a very tangible sense of place. What is it about setting that is so important to you as a writer?

SO'N: People are where they come from and where they live. They’re defined by the culture around them, down to the weather and the land. Even a manufactured culture like the culture of the workplace—the Lobster, for instance. Setting determines what’s possible, what’s probable and what’s inevitable for a character.

There's more here. Or if you want to give O'Nan a listen, he appeared on the marvelous literary podcast The Bat Segundo Show, discussing "Last Night at the Lobster," in December -- play online or download.

Carolyn Kellogg

* Full disclosure: I attend the University of Pittsburgh and was the founding editor of Hot Metal Bridge, from which I have now retired.