New Mexico plays influential role in author’s work

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By Kirsten Laskey

New Mexico has played a major role in Lee Abbott’s work. The author of six collections of short fiction including “Wet Places at Noon,” “The Heart Never Fits its Wanting” and “Love is the Crooked Thing,” explained the easy answer behind his literary attraction to New Mexico is that he grew up in Las Cruces. The more complex answer is “everything that mattered to me happened in New Mexico,” Abbott said.

He explained he experienced his first love, first death and first friendship in the state. Abbott also met his wife in New Mexico, his children were born in New Mexico and he received his education in the Land of Enchantment.

“Nine times out of 10, it’s in everything I write,” Abbott said.

Plus, the state’s landscape, culture, people and language are all things he loves.

People can learn more about Abbott and his writing during the Authors Speak series at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Mesa Public Library’s upstairs rotunda.  

During his talk, Abbott said he is considering reading two of his short stories and possibly discussing where his stories come from and their various influences.

He said he is looking forward to coming to Los Alamos because, despite all his time spent in the state, he has never visited the townsite.

“I’m looking forward to going to Los Alamos because believe it or not, of all my years on the planet, I’ve  never been to Los Alamos,” Abbott said. “I’m looking forward to visiting a place so prominent in American history.”

Abbott has had a distinguished history himself in writing. His many short stories and reviews, as well as articles on American literature, have appeared in Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, The Georgia Review and The New York Times Book Review. Abbott’s fiction has been often reprinted in The Best American Short Stories and The Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. His latest collection of stories, “All Things, All at Once: New & Selected Stories,” was published by Norton in 2006.

When he is not residing in New Mexico, Abbott works as a university professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and, more recently, Ohio State University. Receiving those awards and distinctions have been some of the highlights of Abbott’s career.

Other high points include winning fellowships from the National Endowments of the Arts and seeing the captain of the airplane who flew Abbott from Newark to Cleveland read one of his stories.

The desire to write probably started with his family. Abbott said growing up, his family was always reading.

“I always saw them reading … I just got hooked. I loved to read,” he said.

Plus, “I think writing is one of the sharpest instruments we have for comprehending the world,” Abbott said.

He added he can only understand the world by throwing English at it.