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Author’s Corner: Kingsport native wins international award, prepares for new book release

Holly Viers • Mar 8, 2020 at 6:30 PM

Kingsport native Lisa Alther has already achieved great success as an author, but she isn’t stopping now.

Fresh off receiving an international award for her contributions to literature, Alther is gearing up for the release of her latest book, “Swan Song.” Already well-known for her debut novel, “Kinflicks,” Alther said fans of her earlier releases may want to check out her latest work.

“I just write because I love to write,” Alther said, “and I guess people that have enjoyed my past books might enjoy this one.”

What’s your background?

Though she now lives in Piney Flats, Alther was born in Kingsport and graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School. From there, she attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she studied English literature.

“I started writing seriously when I was at Dobyns-Bennett,” Alther said. “I wrote for the newspaper, and then in college I wrote for the newspaper and took a short story creative writing class.”

After college, she earned her living by working in publishing, journalism and other writing fields, though her dream was still to become an author.

“I wrote for about 14 years without getting any fiction published; I’d written a couple of novels and about 15 short stories,” Alther said. “Finally, my third novel was accepted and published and did well. So after that, I was able to just write.”

What other books have you written?

That first published book, “Kinflicks,” came out in 1976 and was a bestseller, Alther said. After her new novel publishes in June, she will have published 12 books in total, eight of which are novels.

“The first five novels I think were sort of contemporary psychological novels, sort of ‘quest’ novels where my main character’s trying to find what life is supposed to mean,” Alther said. “Then I went on a phase where I wrote mostly about this area. … So with this latest novel, I’m kind of returning to what I did with the first five novels.”

Talk about your new book.

Set on a cruise ship, the novel follows Dr. Jessie Drake as she struggles with the loss of both her parents and her longtime partner. A journey of grief, love and making a new start later in life, the book was originally planned as a murder mystery, but Alther later abandoned that idea and finished writing it as a “quest” novel.

The new book should be available for purchase at any bookstore beginning June 9, Alther said. Her other books can be purchased online on Amazon or other online book retailers.

Talk about your recent award.

Alther has made a name for herself not only in this country, but also internationally. In January, she traveled to London to accept an award from the Idries Shah Foundation, set up by the family of the late writer. Other recipients of the award include Jane Goodall, David Attenborough, explorer Robyn Davidson and Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller.

Alther has also been recognized locally. She was awarded the Basler Chair at ETSU in 1999 and previously taught a seminar there on Southern women writers.

What’s next?

Though she’s currently staying busy with the upcoming release of her new novel, Alther isn’t ruling out the possibility of writing again.

“I called this one ‘Swan Song’ partly because I thought it might be my swan song … except that I always think that every time after I finish a book; I think I’ve said everything I have to say and I might as well retire,” Alther said. “That’s what I’m thinking now, but I imagine I’ll probably write something else.”

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