On my radar: Elizabeth Strout’s cultural highlights

Born in Portland, Maine, Elizabeth Strout, 64, is the author of six novels including Olive Kitteridge (2008), which won the Pulitzer prize for fiction and has sold more than 1m copies. She published her first short story in 1982 but didn’t find wider success until her debut novel, Amy and Isabelle, came out 16 years later. Her latest novel, Olive, Again, a follow-up to her 2008 bestseller, has just been released in paperback. Strout and her husband, James, a former attorney general, divide their time between homes in Manhattan and Maine.

1. Music

Hélène Grimaud


Hélène Grimaud

‘Magical’: Hélène Grimaud. Photograph: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

Recently I was listening to a Mozart Pandora [a US music streaming service] station and all of a sudden I sat up and thought: Who is playing that piano piece? It turned out the pianist was Hélène Grimaud. How could it be that I had never heard of her? She is astonishing, magical. She has a touch that feels like no other I’ve heard; firm, electric. This has been an amazing discovery for me.

2. Place

Rumford, Maine


Rumford, Maine.

Rumford, Maine. Photograph: Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

During this pandemic, my husband and I grew restless and so we drove to the town of Rumford, Maine, two hours away. Rumford historically was a mill town. The mill owner had come in 1905 and built a series of beautiful houses on the hills of the town for the mill workers to live in. Over time, the mill lost business, and is now producing only a fraction of what it once did. The population has fallen 50%. We found a ghost town; the beautiful houses remained, but were in shambles, with many people out in front of them on an autumn weekday, debris lying everywhere. There were Trump signs on the lawns. Such is the cultural and class divide in this country right now.

3. Art

Edward Hopper


Morning Sun, 1952, by Edward Hopper.

Morning Sun, 1952, by Edward Hopper. Photograph: Artepics/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

One thing I have noticed during this pandemic is how much the work of Edward Hopper continues to comfort me. I have many books, large ones, of his works, and I will thumb through them. It reminds me of a time a number of years ago when the Whitney had a show of Hopper. I had done an event with the poet Anne Carson there, and so the museum director allowed me in to the exhibit that night all by myself. What a thrill! To be able to see Hopper’s works without peering behind anyone. But I got too excited, and I almost could not absorb what I was seeing. Such was the state of my exhilaration.


Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St Vincent Millay Paperback

4. Book

Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford

This biography of Edna St Vincent Millay is quite a read. As a child, the suffering of Millay is really estimable; her mother was always gone – she was a nurse – and Millay was left to take care of her two younger sisters in a house where the pipes would freeze and burst. The girls then skated across the kitchen floor. Millay’s imagination seemed with her from the beginning. She made up a mother and wrote to her. This was not her real mother, to whom she also wrote. I am impressed that the child knew intuitively what to do to survive.

5. TV

Call My Agent!


Juliette Binoche in Call My Agent!.

Juliette Binoche in Call My Agent!. Photograph: France 2/Netflix

Call My Agent! is a French-made series that started on French television in 2015, and is now available on Netflix. It’s – to me – immensely enjoyable, watching the different agents fight among themselves to get various stars, who also have a variety of problems. It’s tense and taut and also funny.

6. Hobby

Cleaning the house


Cleaning equipment

‘I pretend that I am a maid, and as I wash the floors I sing to myself.’ Photograph: Alamy

I play the piano at least an hour a day, and that is probably the only thing that comes close to being a hobby of mine. But during this pandemic our housecleaner has gone to work in a nursing home, and so I have been cleaning the house. I cleaned houses in my youth for a number of years and I always did a good job, because I was conscientious. But I hated it. So now, I pretend that I am a maid, and as I wash the floors I sing to myself. It’s been interesting. I know to wait until I feel like doing it, and then I wash the bathtub with gusto, singing my heart out.

The Guardian

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