The year 2020 promises to be an exciting one for Nora Corrigan. She completed her first novel, about a female oil worker on a rig in a North Dakota boomtown, not long after arriving in Provincetown for her Fine Arts Work Center writing fellowship last October. She came here with her husband, an Irishman named Colin Corrigan, also a writer. And she’ll be giving a reading from her work next Thursday, March 12, along with poetry fellow Francisco Márquez.
The year is also marked by two creative ventures that are actually connected: Corrigan has begun a second novel and is pregnant with her first child. She and her husband are expecting a baby girl at the end of April, just as the winter fellowships are over.
The new novel is set in Massachusetts, where Corrigan was born, and it centers on a pregnancy, covering a period from about six months before the birth to six months after, she says.
“Pregnancy is a subject that’s obviously on my mind, though I think it’s also objectively fascinating,” says Corrigan. “It is something we’re all involved in by virtue of being born, so no one escapes this weird sort of animal process. I also think that people must be sick of listening to me talk about that process and it’s all I want to talk about, so it’s sort of good to have a book to talk at.” She laughs.
In exploring ways that pregnancy and becoming a parent have been written about, Corrigan found that they’ve often been described in simplistic, saccharine terms. In her own work, she hopes to delve into more complex realities.
“Having a kid is a pretty conventional, ordinary thing to do, but it also feels like a radical decision, signing over your life to this unbelievably vulnerable stranger,” she says. “You want more than anything to do right by her, and the only guarantee is that you’ll screw it up. I definitely channeled some of these anxieties into the novel. A lot of the characters have failed in different ways in their role as a parent. At the same time, parenting is this enormous privilege and pleasure. I have brilliant examples in my own parents, and my husband’s family, so I wanted to look at that, too — what does it mean to do this well?”
Corrigan, who got an M.F.A. from the prestigious Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan in 2016 and has been teaching there, at UMass, and at GrubStreet in Boston ever since, says she has been thinking about what it means to be a mother and a writer.
“The story I’ve been told is that you can’t really do both well,” she says. “So you’ll need to choose. I want to think that one will enrich the other, but at the same time, there is something inherently selfish about making art — self-involved, anyway — and can you retain that selfishness after having kids? Am I wrong to want to? It’s all very scary in a lot of different ways, but also incredibly exciting.”
Though it feels unfamiliar to Corrigan to bring the circumstances of her own life into her writing, the new book is still largely a work of fiction. “In terms of the plot, it is as unlike my own experience as the first novel,” Corrigan says. “I’m not a character. None of my family or friends make appearances. With both, though, my life creeps in. It’s just more comfortable for me to use non-autobiographical material to think about problems or ideas that excite or trouble me.”
The novel is told from four characters’ points of view, with each section told in first person. “You’re quite intimately connected with the characters,” she says. “You’re trying to think as they would think, which is, in some ways, a very weird and unnatural way to get to know someone. You can’t do that when you meet people in real life. It’s kind of a perverse impulse to want not just to read their mind but to speak in their voice. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing.”
Corrigan and her husband found out about their pregnancy after she was accepted to FAWC. “There was definitely a question of whether giving up our jobs to come here was the responsible choice,” she says. “It wasn’t, really, but we came anyway, and we’re so glad we did. Our time here has been precious.”
The other fellows, as well as the staff at the work center, have been especially supportive of the young couple with a new baby on the way. “You have this built-in community here of super-talented, warm people,” Corrigan says, and adds that she feels a bit like a mascot. “It’s weird entering a new community pregnant. I can’t drink, I leave parties early, but I can be present with my freakish belly. And because I’m due at the end of April, I’m also the physical embodiment of our remaining time here. When I detonate, we all have to leave, which is sad, but from a narrative standpoint, it also feels nicely dramatic.”
The event: Reading by fiction fellow Nina Corrigan (and poetry fellow Francisco Márquez)
The time: Thursday, March 12, 6 p.m.
The place: Fine Arts Work Center, 24 Pearl St., Provincetown
The cost: Free