Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Author Tracy Chevalier at Lourdes June 28

It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since author Tracy Chevalier wrote Girl with A Pearl Earring — a classic that captured the imagination of millions of readers worldwide. It was only her second novel, and since then she’s written ten more — almost all historical fiction with many focused on women artisans. Chevalier will be in Sylvania on June 28 to talk about her latest novel, The Glassmaker.

The story takes place in Venice — one of the most magical, mysterious cities in the world. Just across the lagoon, in a tiny city called Murano, is the heart of Europe’s glassmaking where the story’s protagonist, Orsola Rosso, learns her family’s glassmaking business to save them from ruin after her father dies. Though set at the height of Renaissance-era Italy, Orsola is flouting convention by working in what is a male-only only space. In secret she learns the art of making glass beads, nurturing a talent she technically isn’t supposed to explore. 

Who is Orsola? 

“Orsala is completely fictional,” Chevalier laughs, “but there is a sliver of Marina Barovier, who is a real person and a character in the book. She was one of the few women glassmakers we know of and invented a bead called the Rosetta. I wanted some of her spirit in Orsola, which is why they meet at the beginning of the book. Barovier gives Orsola advice, encourages her to make beads, and is like the daughter Barovier never had in her real life. Even if I feel a character is entirely fictional, there are always bits and pieces of people I know in them.” 

The makings of a writer and a passion for history

Having grown up in Washington D.C., Chevalier graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio with a BA in English and moved to England in the mid-1980s. She first worked in publishing as a reference book editor and got her MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. She admits that it’s tough to write eight hours a day so she breaks up her time working with many arts organizations like The British Library and The Royal Literary Fund, to name just a few. Like many of her characters, she also loves any sort of art done with her hands. Although she took some painting classes while writing Girl with A Pearl Earring, her descriptions of painting, how it feels as an artist, as well as the technical aspects, are an undeniable aspect of the book’s success. The glimpse into Vermeer’s world, an artist whose life story is elusive, feels extraordinarily authentic. 

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What is it about history that Chevalier is drawn to? Chevalier said, “If you had told me years ago that I would be a historical novelist, I would’ve laughed!” She admits that moving to England where history is everywhere sparked her interest. “The real turning point was attending a family reunion in my early 30s in Switzerland where my dad is from originally. I heard stories about the Chevaliers from my cousins whom I’d never met and where they came from in southern France. There’s a book that has a chapter on the Chevaliers, and something just clicked that there’s more to the world than what we see around us in the present moment. Once you start looking at the past, it makes you appreciate the richness of where we’ve come from and where we are now.

“My first novel, The Virgin Blue, was part contemporary and part history. The first half is about an American woman who moves to France and investigates her family history, and the second half is about that history. I loved working on the history part because it was a way of escaping. From then on, there was no turning back.” 

Chevalier says history broadens her understanding of the world. “The first step in loving history usually happens when you start looking into your own family history, something that’s personal, and then you start moving more broadly into the world.”

How art connects us to our past

“I do write a lot about art and crafts,” Chevalier said. “I hate to make that distinction because many useful things people make are also very beautiful and artistic.  I’m interested in the tangible of the past. It’s also a way of helping readers connect to both the history and the story, whether that’s embroidery, painting, quilting, or making glass beads. It’s literally a tangible presence they can hold on to.” 

A VIP reception is planned for 6 pm and Chevalier will speak at 7 pm followed by a Q&A and book signing. Tickets include a signed copy of The Glassmaker and are available online at starlitetheatergroup.org or at Finch & Fern.

Lourdes University, Finch & Fern Book Co. and Starlite Theater Group are partnering to bring author events to Sylvania. Event sponsors are Anderson/Miller Insurance and the Taylor Automotive Family.

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