Celebrated novelist and short-story writer Kate Walbert will be at the National Writers Series on Tuesday, October 6, beginning at 7 p.m. to discuss her linked-story collection, “She Was Like That.” The book was originally published in October 2019 and is available for preorder at Horizon Books with a 20% NWS discount.
This is a free, virtual event. Register here. Guest host for the evening is Shannon Kleiber, an author, producer and former staff-writer for The Washington Post.
According to Kate Walbert, the best stories are the ones that can keep their readers’ company. “That’s the golden ring,” she says. “That’s the resonance I would hope for readers: that they find my work good company.”
Now an acclaimed author and novelist, Walbert traces her career back to her teen-hood, and the advice of one “extraordinary” English teacher. “I thought that to be a ‘writer,’ was a whole separate thing—unattainable,” says Walbert. “But she encouraged me, inspired me and told me she thought I could succeed.” Suffice to say, that teacher was right. Since then, Walbert has published six full-length works, including National Book Award Finalist “Our Kind” (2004), and L.A Times Book Prize Finalist “A Short History of Women” (2009), as well as the linked stories, “Where She Went” (1998). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and The Paris Review, amongst numerous other publications. And as of late last year, Walbert’s added her seventh book to the bracket.
A compilation of new and collected short stories, “She Was Like That” is a comprehensive exploration of how it feels to be female—both past and present. Together with her editor, Walbert began the culling process with five stories that had yet to appear in print; “many of which,” she says, “focus on women finding their way—in friendship, love, motherhood and marriage.” The pair then sought the strongest past publications, including excerpts from “A Short History of Women,” that might echo, or inform the new stories in an interesting way. The result? A feminist manifesto for the 21st century.
Still, Walbert is often more interested in the impressions of others than her own. “Like most writers, I’m a bit of a magpie,” she says. A self-confessed story-collector, Walbert prefers not to write from direct experience, lest she lose a little hard-earned mystery. “I already know how the story turns out,” she says, “so, I take details and anecdotes from other places, including what I observe, and funnel [them] through my characters.” Walbert’s newest narrative is certainly no exception. Packed, cover to cover with personalities, “She Was Like That” unites them all within the framework of feminism.
Of course, this collection is also a reflection of Walbert’s own womanhood. “I love the idea of what a teacher of mine once described as the ‘scrim of personality,’” she says. “That you literally see the world as only you see the world. I’m not a conventional researcher, but all of my experiences as a woman come into play [in the book] in one way or another. You could say that every book I write feels as if I’ve been researching it my whole life.”
But, for Walbert’s part, it’s the plot that drives the pen, not the other way around. “I love Margaret Atwood’s line, ‘a story is a score for voice,’” she says. “This feels exactly right to me. I don’t work from an outline, so [my work] has to do with the narrator’s voice and particularities, the knots in the language that I’m trying to untangle. It’s an inside-out process. I just try to stay true to what feels organic.”
So, what’s the secret formula for writing that resonates? Walbert’s not sure she can answer that. “I think it’s a small part luck,” she says, “but it’s mostly the hard work of following your narrator’s lead, and believing that the mind has a way of making sense of things, even if you might not know where your story is taking you.”