Ladette Randolph is the author of Leaving the Pink House, published just this month. University of Iowa Press acquisitions editor Elisabeth Chretien asked her a few questions about writing her book, growing up and living in Nebraska, and her life in Boston now.
Elisabeth Chretien: What drew you to write about your life through the lens of houses?
Ladette Randolph: The structure of this book arose organically. I kept careful notes throughout the process of our gutting and rebuilding the house in the country, so that formed the core of my inspiration for this book; however, the story of the house project wasn’t quite enough (or so early readers told me). Years before I wrote about the country house, I had written a series of essays, and when I looked back through them I realized many of my memories had been archived through the various moves we’d made in my childhood and later moves in my adulthood. When I started playing with combining the two stories, it seemed the best way to tell what turned out to be a complicated story about the meaning of home.
EC: What was the most difficult thing for you in restoring the country house? What was the most rewarding?
LR: There were a lot of difficult things about restoring the country house. It was financially very risky and the time involved to pull it off was almost inconceivable. It was painful and exhausting work. I still don’t quite know how we (mostly my husband Noel) did it. I would say, though, that the most difficult thing and the most rewarding thing are the same. We jumped into this project (and we aren’t usually such impulsive people) and then came to see how we’d need the help of other people if we were going to meet the deadline for the bridge loan. While it’s true if we hadn’t met that deadline we could have extended it, during the volatile period after 9/11 we were very anxious to lock into a permanent loan. Friends, family, and our neighbors at the country house were wonderfully generous to us, as the book makes clear, and that was incredibly affirming, but it also felt at times like we’d created a burdensome situation. People never made us feel that way, but we were very humbled by the experience.
EC: You’re a native of Nebraska. How has your homeplace influenced your writing?
LR: I’m not sure I have enough perspective to answer this question, but I know that I can’t seem to stop writing about Nebraska. I’m not entirely sure why. It’s a landscape that has shaped me; it’s in my bones, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Nebraska remains imaginatively important to my work (at least so far it has). I keep wondering at what point I’ll start writing about New England with as much familiarity. It’s something of a puzzle to me.
This interview is the just the first part! Check out the rest on Monday, September 8.