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Lorrie Moore On Writing And A 'Very Crowded' Life

Lorrie Moore's new novel manages to be both playful and powerful. A Gate at the Stairs tells the story of a 20-year-old college student who takes a job as a part-time nanny for a couple who has adopted a mixed-race daughter.

Set in the fall of 2001, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 loom over the story without ever being central. Moore tells Scott Simon that she chose the timing of her tale carefully:

"[After Sept. 11] there was a kind of passivity and fear and acquiescence going on, as we watched the Bush administration use this event to make a case for the invasion of Iraq," she explains. "One of the several themes of the book is that kind of passivity and acquiescence, both in the personal realm and in the public realm."

Though her novel is grounded in the real world, Moore says it's really powered by imagination. "I'm not recording from the real world all the time, because that's just dull. ... I want to create something that doesn't exist exactly in the real world, but exists in a kind of parallel to the real world."

This is Moore's first novel in 15 years. She explains that though she tries to write every day — or at least take notes — her life is "very crowded." In addition to writing book reviews and short stories, she also teaches at the University of Wisconsin and is a single mother with a 15-year-old son, who, she jokes, thinks a novelist's job is to sit at a desk, drink coffee and avoid her children.

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