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Washington, DC

"St. Michael's" by Charlie Dave via Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/charliedave/ / CC BY 2.0)

In Curtis Sittenfeld?s bestselling novel Prep, a 14-year-old girl struggles to fit in when she leaves her family and life in Indiana behind to attend the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. In this excerpt from an interview with the NEA, Sittenfeld examines another outsider, the unnamed protagonist of Tobias Wolff?s Old School:

Well, I think he's an outsider, I mean, his father is Jewish, which he learned only recently and his mother has died. And, he?s from Seattle, so he's not from a wealthy, two-parent East Coast home, which most of his classmates are. He?s on scholarship, [and] he says that the school takes pains not to show who is or isn't on scholarship. But you can just tell by people's demeanor and, sort of, their comfort in the world?.So, he's a geographical outsider, secretly a religious outsider. But then, I think, in his own head, that's almost the way in which he's the biggest outsider. There?s this discussion of how, with his roommate, neither of them is really honest with each other. And there is this wonderful passage where it talks about how people---roommates---who fight with each other are actually closer than he and his roommate are. And that they've almost skirted around each other, and not admitted things. And in that way, I think the biggest way that he's an outsider is that he doesn't present his real self to others, and so, therefore, he's automatically alienated from them. He hasn't given himself a chance to fit in.  

To learn more about Tobias Wolff and Old School visit the NEA Big Read website.

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