Award-winning fiction writer Kirstin Valdez Quade will join the Lewis Center for the Art’s Program in Creative Writing faculty at Princeton University in September 2016. She has been appointed Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and will be teaching undergraduate workshops in fiction.
Following the debut of her short story collection Night at the Fiestas, Quade was awarded the “5 Under 35” award from the National Book Foundation in 2014, a recognition of writers who “challenge, innovate, and energize the writing world.” She is also the recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the 2013 Narrative Prize. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Narrative, Guernica, The Southern Review, The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories, among other publications. She has received fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, as well as a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation.
Jeffrey Eugenides, the faculty member who chaired the search committee that selected Quade, noted, “Each of the ten stories in Night at the Fiestas seeks to depict, in Elizabeth Bowen’s phrase, ‘life with the lid on it and what happens when the lid comes off.’ Calm, dignified, and well-composed, these stories exhibit a surface tranquility that lures the reader in, much like the desert landscapes that serve as their background, only to twist and strike, spewing poisons, like a rattlesnake beneath a rock.”
Eugenides adds that content is paramount for Quade. For that reason, he explains, a traditional approach to storytelling, one that favors psychology in the presentation of character and verisimilitude in the representation of the physical and social worlds, serves her needs best.
The search committee, which also included Chang-rae Lee and Tracy K. Smith, felt that the stories in Night at the Fiestas displayed a control and maturity remarkable for a first book and bore the hallmarks of work that could develop into something, in the words of Lee, “majestic.” Smith noted she was “impressed with the vertical concerns” in Quade’s stories, and “their ability to keep a number of thematic balls in the air in the compressed manner of poetry.”
Quade earned her B.A. from Stanford University and her M.F.A. in Fiction from the University of Oregon in 2009. She was also a Wallace Stegner and Truman Capote Fellow and a Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford University, where she taught fiction and creative non-fiction. In 2014-15, she was the Nicholas Delbanco Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan.
Most of Quade’s stories revolve around the passions and obligations of family life and explore themes of race, class and coming-of-age. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and having lived all over the Southwest, Quade believes that the landscape of New Mexico and Santa Fe, where she spent most of her high school and college summers at her grandparents’ homes, are the “primary fuel” for her stories. In an interview with the magazine Pasatiempo, Quade said that she started writing because of her curiosity of what it is like to be other people. She added she has drawn on family stories in her work. “I wrote fiction because there were always details that my grandparents or great-aunt couldn’t supply, questions that they couldn’t answer. So I began to fill in the gaps myself,” Quade noted in the interview.
In addition to Eugenides, Lee and Smith, Quade will join Program in Creative Writing faculty Jhumpa Lahiri, Paul Muldoon, Joyce Carol Oates, James Richardson, Susan Wheeler, and Edmund White, among others. Through the program’s courses, students have the opportunity to pursue original work at both beginning and advanced levels in fiction, poetry, screenwriting and translation under the guidance of these practicing, award-winning writers. Students can earn a certificate in creative writing in addition to their degree in a major. Each year two dozen seniors work individually with a member of the faculty on a creative writing thesis, such as a novel, screenplay, or a collection of short stories, poems, or translations.
“I am absolutely thrilled to be joining the Princeton community,” notes Quade. “I look forward to working with such talented students and to teaching alongside faculty whose books I admire so deeply and return to again and again.”
In a New York Times Book Review of Night at the Fiestas, critic Kyle Minor noted, “Quade attempts, page by page, to give up carefully held secrets, to hold them up to the light so we can get at the truth beneath, the existential truth. Perhaps this is as close as we can get to what is sacred in an age in which so many have otherwise rejected the idea of the sacred.”
“Reviewers of Kirstin Valdez Quade’s first collection of short stories have found themselves comparing her work to that of Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, and Flannery O’Connor,” notes Michael Cadden, Chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts. “This is, needless to say, quite remarkable company! But the fact is that she is also an original, and we look forward to doing what we can, as colleagues, to nurture that originality and, as readers, to revel in it.”