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Rosellen Brown

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People of the Book: Rosellen Brown

Rosellen is the embodiment of consistency in output, publishing ten books over her career while teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago and Art Workshop International in Assisi, Italy. We’ve got the following profile of this Pushcart and Guggenheim Fellowship winner.



Rose Ellen Brown, in 1939 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


With her husband Marvin Hoffman in a Hyde Park high-rise in Chicago, Illinois


Brown teaches creative writing at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago.

Summer Gig:

Spoleto Writers’ Workshop in Umbria, Italy.


Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters
Guggenheim Fellowship
NEA Grant, Pushcart Prize


Half a Heart (Picador)


Learning Italian (ongoing)

Introducing Rosellen Brown

From Ploughshares in 1994

Rosellen Brown is full of contradictions. She appears friendly and voluble, and admits she loves to perform in front of an audience, but she considers herself shy, and claims she is crippled with discomfort at parties. About writing novels, she says, “I have to struggle with my almost total inability to tell a story,” although in The New York Times Book Review, Michael Dorris—after commending its literary merit—called her last book, the critically lauded and best-selling Before and After, “an unabashed, read-until-dawn page turner.” After publishing four novels, two collections of stories and essays, and two volumes of poetry, with another forthcoming, Brown still wishes she had become a musician, able to deliver a “crystallized feeling that connects on a visceral level,” complaining, “I get tired of trying to be smart.” And Brown, a New Yorker–turned–New Englander, a pure-bred Yankee, somehow became an avid Houston Rockets fan, faithfully following the perennial chokers over twelve years until finally, with Brown in the stands at the Summit, the Rockets beat the Knicks to clinch the NBA Championship this summer.

But these sorts of discrepancies of character are what interest Brown about people, and she has made it her life’s work to explore the complexities of the human heart, the intricate and unpredictable ways that ordinary women and men react to circumstances of fate. “There’s no single truth,” she says, and would never presume to offer one. “I take very seriously the idea that novelists raise questions and don’t necessarily answer them.” Rather, she only attempts to provide a measure of comprehension for her characters’ actions, whether such insights are sympathetic or not. “Novels are where we learn what it feels like to be someone else, where we learn to be patient with ways of looking at things that are not our own.”

Read the full profile at

The Latest News on Brown

Winner of a Pushcart Prize (XXX) for her story, The Widow Joy. Originally published in the magazine, Speakeasy. (And also, reprinted on the DVD digital anthology.)

From the Cutting Room Floor

An interview excerpt not used on the DVD.

Brown on Discovery

So much of what I do when I’m writing, and this isn’t the case for everybody, is to discover what I’m talking about as I go along. Some people know exactly what they’re doing. I think it’s Joyce Carol Oates who says she has everything worked out in her head before she puts pen to paper. No way I’m going to be able to do that. I find out what is on my mind as I write and I watch my characters solving problems, going deeper into the situation that I put them in at the beginning. And I usually have no idea where it is that they’re going to go. And you would be surprised to know how many writers write that way. EL Doctorow has a wonderful quote, I never have it exactly but it’s something like, writing a novel is like driving in fog at night. You can go only as far as headlights see, but you can get to the end of the road that way. Which I think is a wonderful way to think about the way I write. It’s like Robert Frost once said, if you know how a poem is going to end why would you bother writing it. Which seems to me absolutely, absolutely right.

Interviews with Brown

A text interview with The Missouri Review in 1994:

An audio interview with NPR about writing and the writer’s mother (also interviewed is Edwidge Danticat):

Snippets of Her Writing

Scenes from Tender Mercies, including audio files of Brown reading these scenes:

Brown reads from Cora Fry, from WBEZ 91.5 FM in Chicago, IL:

About the Movie "Before and After"

Brown's novel Before and After was turned into a movie in 1996 starring Liam Neeson and Merly Streep.

A review of the movie, with reflections on Brown's novel as the basis of the movie:

A brief review from the NY Times:

"Why the Book was Better than the Movie"

More Links of Interest

A fan of Brown:

Brown’s quotation as recorded by Bartleby’s Quotations:

A review of Half a Heart from the Pittsburg Post-Gazette:


Researched by CP Chang

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