When I was in college, I wrote many short stories. The biggest challenge I faced while writing them was finding inspiration. When I found out that I was going to have the privilege of interviewing author Jean Thompson for her upcoming appearance at The Pygmalion Festival, I knew I had to ask such an accomplished writer where she finds inspiration for her work. While her answer was brief, it was exactly what I needed to hear.


Thompson is an incredibly accomplished writer who has published short stories in The New Yorker, written novels, including her most recent entitled She Poured Out Her Heart, and even published short story collections, one of them being The Witch and Other Tales Re-Told. Not only has she published various works, but she is also a teacher and has taught at Northwestern University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and other colleges around the country. She has received a number of different accolades over the course of her career, one of them being her novel Who Do You Love, which was a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award. I recently reached out to Thompson to ask her a few questions about her upcoming performance at The Pygmalion Festival as well as a couple of questions about her work and what inspires her.

Smile Politely: Why did you choose to be a part of The Pygmalion Festival?

Thompson: Pygmalion has grown to be such a great assemblage of talent, spectacle, and information. I was happy to accept the invitation.

SP: What do you hope the audience will get from hearing your work at this festival?

Thompson: Well, I hope they'll find enjoyment in it. And perhaps see how fiction is crafted and comes together into a finished product.

SP: Do you have any influences on your work? Are you inspired or influenced by any other writers?

Thompson: I was talking with a painter friend recently and we agreed that everything we've ever seen and read acts as an influence.

SP: Do you have any aspirations for your work in the future? Are their goals or desires that you are working towards?

Thompson: I'm always looking ahead to the next project, and hoping to take it on with the same level of excitement as the last one.

SP: What can readers expect from you going forward after this festival? If an audience member at the festival feels compelled to read your work moving forward, what would you say to that audience member about your work, present or future?

Thompson: It seems a bit presumptuous to direct a reader exactly what to get out of one's writing. I write, they decide. That said, I'd love it if anyone felt compelled to read my books! We should all read more, and that includes myself. You never know when a book is going to grab onto you and not let go and stay with you for life.

It was immediately clear to me during and after our interview that Thompson truly cares about the reader. Her answer to the final question of our interview really hit home for me. It was inspiring to not only learn about what influences her work, but also how much she cares for readers everywhere and how much she wants them to explore other works and read more. I could not agree more with that sentiment. I was always told in college to read more and hearing that same piece of advice from such an accomplished writer is truly inspiring. I hope that Jean’s words hit home for other readers out there. They certainly did for me.

If you would like to hear some of Jean’s work, you can go to her free reading event at The Pygmalion Festival. The event takes place at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts in the Colwell Playhouse at 8:30 p.m.. on Thursday, September 22.

About Jordan Kreie:

Jordan Kreie is a recent college graduate with a Bachelor degree in English. When he isn't writing articles for the Arts section of Smile Politely, he is watching movies and writing film criticism. You can find him on twitter @jordankreie or read more of his work on his blog.

Top photo by Justine Bursoni.