The University of Iowa

Interview with Andrew Ridker

Today we are interviewing author Andrew Ridker in anticipation of his reading at Prairie Lights Bookstore on March 27th at 7pm. Ridker will read from his debut novel The Altruists.

In The Altruists, a family tries to recalibrate itself after years of disconnection. On the verge of losing the family home, Arthur invites his children back to St. Louis under the guise of a reconciliation. But in doing so, he unwittingly unleashes a Pandora's box of age-old resentments and long-buried memories. “It's frankly a little unfair that a writer so young should be this talented . . . Andrew Ridker has a sharp eye for the absurdities and contradictions of 21st century America. The Altruists is a truly remarkable debut." —Nathan Hill, author of The Nix

Andrew Ridker is currently an MFA candidate at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review DailyBoston Review, and The Believer; and he is the editor of Privacy Policy: The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics. He is the recipient of an Iowa Arts Fellowship from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.


1. Hello Andrew! Thanks for talking with us today! I love how you chose St. Louis as the book’s main location. How did the city’s personality influence the book?

Homeownership, financial stability, upward mobility--St. Louis, smack in the middle of the country, seemed like the perfect place to test these tenets of the American dream. Still, no city can be reduced to an emblem, and as I wrote I found myself drawn to specific spaces throughout St. Louis, where issues of class were unavoidable. There are scenes set in the city's universities, hospitals, gay bars, hotels, public parks, and gated communities. My hope is that the novel paints a comic but complex portrait of a part of the country too often underrepresented in literature.

2. And how does this correlate to the personality of the family as a whole?

There are four protagonists, and each one sees the city differently. Francine, a native Midwesterner who always dreamed of "getting out," is at once familiar with the landscape and less than thrilled to be back. Her husband Arthur, who hails from Massachusetts, is possessed by the pioneering spirit, and perceives the move out west in opportunistic terms. Their children, Ethan and Maggie, spend their formative years in St. Louis, but after graduating college, head back east. For them, returning to the city of their birth is a chance to right the wrongs of the past. The polyphonic structure of the novel allowed me to look at the Midwest through the eyes of an East Coaster, and vice versa, which is how I've seen things these past ten years, bouncing back and forth between Boston, St. Louis, New York, and Iowa. 

3. For your readings in the midwest, do you have a specific section that you plan to highlight?

When I visit St. Louis, in the shadow of my alma mater, I plan on reading the chapter in which Ethan goes to college. I'll probably break that section out for Chicago, too. At Prairie Lights, I think I'll focus on Francine.

4. It was unique how you presented Francine, and her relationship to money. This is an interesting take on the power dynamics of gender roles in a relationship. Can you talk more about this choice?

When Francine dies, she leaves behind a large sum of money that no one in the family knew about. In her final days, suspecting Arthur of having an affair, she gives the money directly to her children. This inheritance has unexpected consequences for all parties involved, chief among them leaving Arthur financially dependent on their kids. Francine, in essence, pulls the purse strings from beyond the grave. I'm interested in the ways money can dictate familial roles, especially when those roles are unconventional or unexpected: the wife controlling the family income, for instance, or the father forced to kowtow to his children in order to stay solvent. 

5. This money situation in the family forces Arthur, the father, to take on the primary caregiving role, in a way. Were you surprised by the awkwardness that followed?

So much comedy derives from awkwardness or discomfort. I looked forward to composing those scenes in which Arthur struggles to relate to Ethan and Maggie. But writing awkwardness can be, itself, extremely awkward, and there were times when I wasn't sure how to get the characters talking to one another--especially since no one could say how they really felt. But in fiction and in life, if you fight through an awkward situation, there's often something profound waiting on the other side. The trick is not to flinch.

6. What should the readers and writers of Iowa City know about the book, or you, before the reading?

They should know that the Midwest factors prominently in the novel, and I hope they know I feel extremely lucky to have spent the last two years in this community that values literature so much. As for the reading: please come! The book is funny. You'll laugh. I promise.

7. And finally, what are you working on currently? Any new projects on the horizon?

I'm roughly two-thirds through a new novel that I've been working on since I joined the Writers' Workshop. Without the keen eyes of my classmates and instructors, I would no doubt have much further to go.



Thank you Andrew!

Andrew Ridker will be reading at 7:00pm on March 27th at Prairie Lights Bookstore in downtown Iowa City!