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Jonathan Franzen is an award-winning American novelist and essayist. Franzen was born in Chicago, Illinois, raised in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, and educated at Swarthmore College.[…]

Innocence prolonged, innocence lost.

Topic: The Midwestern writer.

Jonathan Franzen: One can go down the list of American writers who I admire and find a great many of them who come from the Midwest and who were marked by leaving it. And I feel as if you look at Mark Twain or Willa Cather or [F. Scott] Fitzgerald or George Saunders or Kurt Vonnegut, there is something distinctive about their having come from the Midwest, had their innocence prolonged by an extra year or two by coming from there, and then lost it at an advanced age in Eastern Europe.

And I think their writing is marked by that wound, but it’s difficult to do more than gather those examples together and point to them.

Maybe one wants to say moral seriousness. But it’s not like [William] Falkner and O’Connor are not morally serious people or [Franz] Kafka, who never set foot in the Midwest except imaginatively, the nature theater of Oklahoma.

So whenever you actually try to pin down what it might mean to be Midwestern as a writer, you’re trying to pin down a water droplet or something it’s terrible.

Recorded On: April 1, 2008