The University of Iowa

Interview and Reading with IWW Alumnus Lucy Ives

Novelist, poet and Iowa Writers' Workshop alumnus Lucy Ives will read from her new novel, Impossible Views of the World, this Thursday, October 5 at 7pm in Prairie Lights Bookstore.

In advance of this reading, we wanted to sit down with Lucy to ask a few quick questions about her new work, her writing routines and what readers and listeners might expect for the event. 

1. Lucy, welcome! It is so great to have you back in town. And thank you for taking the time to speak with us today about Impossible Views of the World. First off, are you able to tell us about the initial inspiration for this novel? Was there a singular image that sparked its birth -- or a scene, a thought?

Hi, Lauren! It’s really great to be coming back to Iowa City, one of my favorite places. It’s also where I first met you, when we were students together, lo these many years ago. I still remember a beautiful poem you wrote that included a pinecone. And now you are winning these big prizes! It’s very cool.

Anyway, my novel is about a young woman who is a curator at a major (fictional!) museum in New York City. It was a fun book to write, because although the museum isn’t real and I could do with it what I pleased, New York is very real, and that is something worth talking about. I started writing the book one day while I was attempting to do something else. I had this strange vision of a small woman rushing up the front steps of a large institution of some sort. As I thought it over, I realized she was trying to get to her job at a museum, and, as I tuned in, I found that I could sort of hear her thoughts. I kept listening—or, perhaps, eavesdropping—and Impossible Views of the World is the result.

2. I want to ask about the characters in the book. Who was your favorite character when you started writing? And did that change as the story progressed? Also, which character challenged you the most?

The antagonists are my favorites. There’s a former lover and a difficult parent in the novel, and they both allowed me to have fun with some pretty awkward dialogue. The book is comic as well as being an art-historical/literary mystery novel, and describing frustrating people was one of the most delightful aspects of this. I don’t know if any of the characters challenged me, per se, although one of the characters has disappeared as the curtain rises on Chapter 1. Working with someone who isn’t there isn’t the easiest thing to do.

3. I especially loved the world of Elysia and the intricate details that arise from this "text inside of a text". It seems like this must have been a very fun part to write, magical. Where did you start with that world? Is it based on an actual artifact?

Elysia, a utopian community described in a made-up early science-fiction novel that the narrator discovers, isn’t based on any real historical literary utopia. The reason for this is that no analogous early 19th-century feminist novel containing a utopia of this sort exists, which is part of the point I’m trying to make. I wanted to imagine a magical place like this, and I cast around in history for a point at which it might have appeared, but didn’t. Mary Shelley was, for example, writing her late works at the time when this fictional novel is “published.”

4. We love to ask about the writing process here: do you have a writing routine? Is there a specific part of the day when you write?

I hate doing just about everything in the mornings, but I write really well at this time, so this is one time of day when I write. It’s nice to have found something it’s possible to do with the morning! However, I also like writing late at night, a problem when it comes to the morning, which has a tendency to subsequently become lost to sleep.

It’s only a very recent thing that I have days during the week that can be wholly devoted to writing. And even these are usually punctuated with administrative work. I used to work more than full time, and during this period I would try to get in an hour or two in the morning, when I still had some of my mind to myself. Over the long term, this kind of strategy pays off. You might write some things that don’t quite make the cut, but eventually, if you keep going, you do get some stuff in shape; it’s almost unavoidable. I used to read interviews with writers who would talk about this, which was part of the reason I knew to do it, and I’m here to say: it works.

5. Do you have a specific excerpt or section that you will read at Prairie Lights? How do you decide what to read for an audience?

I do have a section in mind! It is a sad and scandalous and, I hope, funny early part of the novel. I’ve done a lot of readings and enjoy them; it is really the best thing to have people right there in the same room as you tell them a bunch of unbelievable things. I try to pick concise, punchy stretches of a given book; the excerpt should have an arc and aim to entertain. A whole book doesn’t have to be entertaining (maybe it even shouldn’t be!), but I do believe in pleasure when it comes to live readings.

6. Is there anything else that the audience should know about your work before they attend the reading?

I’m excited about contemporary writing, and if anyone wants to hang out and talk about it after the reading I’d be enthusiastic about that.



Lucy Ives is the author of the novel Impossible Views of the World, published by Penguin Press. Her writing has appeared in Art in America, Artforum, Lapham's Quarterly, and Vogue, among other publications. For five years she was an editor with the online magazine Triple Canopy. A graduate of Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from New York University. She teaches at the Pratt Institute and is currently editing a collection of writings by the artist Madeline Gins.