While I Was Gone
In 1968 my son Ben was born, and I didn't write more than a few pages of fiction a year for the next seven or eight years. I was separated for a second, final, time from my husband in 1970, and divorced several years later. For the years after my separation, I rented rooms out in my house and worked in day care. In 1977-78, I began writing again in earnest and for the first time with a sense of commitment and conviction, as well as a growing excitement in my own ability, it seemed to me, to respond to some of the formal demands of writing, to understand something of how fiction worked.
For the first years I was trying to write steadily, my productivity was directly proportional to my ability to win grants and fellowships. In 1979, I was awarded a fellowship to the Creative Writing Program at Boston University, which paid me almost as much as I'd been earning in day care. I quit my job and enrolled. At the end of that year I won a Henfield Award, which let me take time to finish another novel, one I'd been working on sporadically for four or five years.
I'd begun by now to have a few stories accepted by a literary magazine - Ploughshares and North American Review - and from this time on I was able to get teaching jobs in various writing programs in the Boston area, stringing together a livelihood as an adjunct professor or lecturer at Boston University, Tufts, Emerson, Harvard Summer School, MIT-sometimes several places simultaneously. In 1983 I won a Bunting Fellowship at Radcliff College, and in 1984 a grant from the Massachusetts Art Council. These let me stop teaching entirely for one year and teach only two courses the following year, so that I was able, during this period, to write The Good Mother, a novel in which a woman comes to understand something about who she is by losing custody of a child. In 1987, a collection of stories I'd been working on before and during the writing of The Good Mother was published. It's titled Inventing the Abbotts. By now I'd begun to work on Family Pictures, relying on my own memories of growing up in Chicago and a lot of reading about the sixties to tell the story of a family with an autistic child over the span of forty years or so, examining the impact of his presence on all their lives, materially, spiritually, and psychologically. It was published in 1990, was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and has been widely translated. For Love, my third novel, was published in the spring of 1993, and in the 1995, The Distinguished Guest, my fourth novel, came out.