Andrew Krivak

Novelist
Andrew Krivak

Photo by Sharona Jacobs

Music Credit: “NY” composed and performed by Kosta T from the cd Soul Sand, used courtesy of the Free Music Archive.

Jo Reed:  Welcome to Art Works, the weekly program from the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed. Today, we talk to Andrew Krivak whose novel The Bear is one of the titles chosen for the NEA’s Big Read program—an initiative that seeks to broaden our understanding of our world, our neighbors, and ourselves through the power of a shared reading experience. And Andrew Krivak does just that with his immersive meditative novel. The Bear begins with the end of humanity and yet creates a world of hope.  We have no idea what happened, but we do know that without humans, or with the last of humans, nature has reclaimed it prominence and its rhythms once again prevail. The last two, a father and daughter, understand and live within those rhythms which they must in order to survive. The lives they live are simple and rich. Yet, it’s not a Utopian novel. There’s challenges and loss, but that world offers so much for those who have eyes to see or ears to hear. I spoke with Andrew Krivak and began our conversation by asking him to read the beginning of The Bear.

Andrew Krivak: “The last two were a girl and her father who lived along the old eastern range on the side of a mountain they called the mountain that stands alone.  The man had come there with a woman when they were young and built a house out of timber, stones pulled from the ground, and mortar they made with a mix of mud and sand.  It was set halfway up the mountain’s slope and looked out onto a lake ringed with birch trees and blueberry bushes that ripened in summer with great bunches of fruit the girl and her father would pick as the two floated along the shore in a canoe.  From a small window in front of the house, the glass, a gift the woman’s parents had given to her after having received it themselves from the generation before, so precious a thing had it become as the skill for making it was lost and forgotten.  The girl could see eagles catching fish in the shallows of an island that rose from the middle of the lake, hear the cries of loons in the morning while her breakfast cooked over a hearth fire.”

Jo Reed: “The Bear,” as we heard, is about what might be the last two people on earth, but that’s not the way this story began with you.  How did it begin for you?

Andrew Krivak: So after my second novel, “The Signal Flame,” I just wanted to do something different.  I was taking a break and my wife and I have a house in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, in the shadow of Mount Monadnock, and I’ve always just loved going up there.  You know, it’s not the Rockies, but there’s a kind of quality to the nature that just always surprises me in its simplicity.  It was, by the way, a favorite place for Henry David Thoreau and Emerson, a lot of the transcendentalists, and I think I know why.  Because there’s just this quality of its oldness, and I thought my next project would be -- I wanted to write a novel in which an older person and a younger person were living close to the land, and how would they interact with nature?  And I was out fishing in my boat one day trying to think about how I could create this narrative which was both a domestic narrative and also a journey narrative, and I was just looking around at the mountain and the forest and the water, and I thought to myself, “Wow, this must’ve been just beautiful for the first people who were here,” and I thought, “I wonder what it’s going to like for the last?” and that’s when it hit me.  I just rode to shore and I sat down and wrote what I just read to you of the last two, and after that it became clear that if this was the case, that each step of the narrative had to mirror that.  How did they live?  How did they measure time?  What was their present moment like?  What was their future like or how did they imagine their future?  And so that’s where the book itself took on that final stage of the last two.

Jo Reed: And what of the bear that plays a pivotal role in the book?

\Andrew Krivak:  I will tell you that the idea of a bear who communicates with the girls came to me when I had to get my kids to sleep one night, and I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania in a pretty rural section.  We had a dog, a black lab, named Troy, and I told them a story about a time when Troy was lost in the woods and my father and I went looking for him and it was just before Christmas and a bear showed up and told us where our dog was and how to find it and we got Troy back and went home and had a nice Christmas, and for years they just loved the story.  Not that I would be reunited with my long, lost dog but that a bear would tell us where we could find him, so that sort of stuck with me.

Jo Reed: Yeah, and there’s something about that element, I think of wonder.  About a talking bear that really kind of goes through this book as well, because for a post-apocalyptic novel, assuming it really is an apocalypse, it leaves the world intact.  Humans are gone, but nature reclaims the earth, and a natural order is actually restored.

Andrew Krivak: Yeah, I’m glad you said word wonder, because there actually is a place in the novel where the girl and the bear are talking and he’s telling her about the way in which the earth itself understands history and tells story.  And her caution or her confusion turned to wonder as the bear then explained more and more.  I just love writing about nature and I wondered about, “What would it look like if nature were if not the protagonist of a novel, at least on an equal playing field with humans?” and, you know, you said post-apocalyptic.  I’m not really sure, and people should know that--

Jo Reed: Exactly.  I said post-apocalyptic. If there was an apocalypse.

Andrew Krivak: Exactly.  Yeah.

Jo Reed: <laughs>

Andrew Krivak: Exactly.  Yeah.  So the idea is something happened such that they were the last two, and then a veil lifts for the girl when she is the last, and that’s what I was really thinking about with respect to the communication between humans and nature.  If it came down to the last one, that girl is so in tune with nature and with animals out of necessity, not because she’s forced into this situation, but because she’s almost welcomed.  It’s as though the earth and nature and animals want to say goodbye in their way, and the girl is the one they say goodbye to.

Jo Reed: Yeah, you felt like they were putting their arms around her.

Andrew Krivak: Thanks.  Thank you.  Yes.  Yeah, I had that intention that it was--

Jo Reed: Was that your image?  Yeah.

Andrew Krivak: Yes.

Jo Reed: I definitely felt that. And I really like that we don’t know what happened.

Andrew Krivak: Hm.  Good.  Good.

Jo Reed: I really was so grateful for that, so we don’t have to relive a whatever-whatever.  Here’s where we are, and--

Andrew Krivak: That’s right.

Jo Reed: But what I thought was interesting is whatever happened, happened generations back.

Andrew Krivak: Right.  Storytelling is so much a matter of memory and storytelling is so much a part of the man’s world and the world of the novel as it shifts from humans to the earth itself, there’s a quality of what’s forgotten as much as what’s remembered.  There’re things that the man doesn’t know in spite of all the things he does know and has to pass on to his daughter, and so much of what he doesn’t know is exactly what happened, and I wanted that to be as much a mystery you know, as the wonder that pervades nature in the book. It has frustrated a lot of people, lot of readers, but I kind of, the ones who do say, “Hey, I wish I knew what happened,” I say, “Well, you know, the story is the story in spite of what happened,”

Jo Reed: Oh, I was just so grateful -nature was restored. <laughs>

Andrew Krivak: Exactly.

Jo Reed: You know, that a natural order was restored.  It was very interesting to me that although the man and the girl are the last two, they do have several books, and he can read and write and he taught her to read and write.

Andrew Krivak: Right.  Yeah.  I guess the cool thing about being a novelist is you get to create the world you want, and books and stories are so much a part of my own education and coming of age that I just, I haven’t written a book yet in which I haven’t had books as not exactly characters but that have played a primary role, and this is another one of them, and I just imagine that books, the books he had are books that talk about the past, that talk about a different time, that do teach you things, how to live, how to think, how to wonder, and then there’re books that I just love, like Wendell Berry’s poetry or Hilda Doolittle’s poetry.

Jo Reed: A couple of things occurred to me as I was reading the book that really stood out, and one was just what we have lost by living so distant from nature, living so outside of nature, as so many of us do, and then-- and I’ll have you speak to them each separately, but the second was time and how we perverted <laughs> a sense of time in such a fundamental way that suddenly it’s about deadlines rather than the rhythms of the world.

Andrew Krivak: Yeah, that’s so true.  Let me take the time question first, because I do think about that a lot, and aside from stories, I think in all the novels I’ve written, time is the one thing I’m always curious about.  You know, I was just telling my kids the other day, we had to be on time for something, and we’re talking about clocks and like, “Why are there 60 minutes?  That’s sort of a random number for an hour.”  I asked them if there could be such a thing as a metric clock or, “Why aren’t there 20 hours in a day and 10 divides the day in half?” but the idea that time is such a construct and when you think about that and try to eliminate it you’re really forced to live in the now, and I wanted the two characters in the novel, the man and the girl, to be entirely living in the now, in the moment.  And so that was one thing I had to think about a lot as the story moved along.  Time.  And I think could link that too, the question about nature and the environment.  I go back and forth on that from day to day.  There are times when I think we are completely removed, and then on any given month or year while I’ll scamper up Mount Monadnock and look out over New Hampshire and western Massachusetts, there’s a lot of green out there.  I mean, New Hampshire is a green state.  Then you got to Vermont; equally green.  There are places where we could do a lot better.  I could do a lot better in my daily life with respect to understanding nature and living closer to it, but all is not lost yet, I don’t think.  One thing I do hope that people might take away from this is that it would force them to look a little closer and a little bit more in the moment at their environment or surroundings, whether it is a mountain in the forest or a lake or if it’s, you know, a patch of green space in the city where they live or a brook or a creek.  I just read an article in The Times about Tibbetts Brook in the Bronx is being uncovered.

Jo Reed: And Tibbett’s Brook was dammed to create a pond and in 1912 part of it was diverted into a drain and sent down to the sewer pipes, and NY has just begun to excavate it

Andrew Krivak: That’s fantastic.  I love that.  So I think that’s... That’s the back and forth of the day-to-day.  I think we’re going to be in that space for a long time.

Jo Reed: Yeah. I completely agree with that.  I just want to go back to time for and I don’t even know quite how to articulate this, but something happened as I was reading the book in terms of my sense of time when I was in the world of that book.  Everything seemed to slow down for me or alter in a particular way, so I’m not being very articulate about this but that it really did have that impact on me as I was reading it.

Andrew Krivak: Well, thank you.  It’s a short book, for those who-- <laughs> <inaudible 00:12:30>--

Jo Reed: Oh, it’s a very short book.

Andrew Krivak: Yeah.

Jo Reed: And I’m a very fast reader, but within that-- when I was in the book, everything was just moving at a pace.

Andrew Krivak: Yeah, and I have to say, I was aware of that.  I wanted the moments where the man and the girl are, you know, for lack of a better word, in their world.  I wanted that to be so specific and detailed, the work they do, almost as though they are consumed by it because it is their present moment, their day-to-day, and yet every novelist will tell you that pacing is critical, and so when I realized I was looking at the space of a short novel, there’s a way in which by the end,  there’s a compression and an expansion of time at the same time that I was trying to aim for.  Denis Johnson does this in his novel, his novella, “Train Dreams,” that I’ve always admired, so I was trying to get at that.  Find the way in which time becomes meditative, but at the same time there’s an end to this, and, you know, we have to get to the end because we will come to an end. 

Jo Reed: And ends are very important in this book.

Andrew Krivak: Yes, yes.

Jo Reed: And as you were talking about detail, certainly we talked about the landscape and nature and how immersive it is as an experience to read that book, but you’re also so detailed about how they make tools, how they make their clothes, their snowshoes, et cetera, et cetera and I’m curious.  Did you do a lot of research for that?  How...?

Andrew Krivak: Yeah, I did.  That was a lot of fun. You know, so growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania in the ‘70s, my brother and I, we spent a lot of time outside, and people ask me, you know, “Are you a survivalist?  Do you know how to do these things?” and the answer’s “No.”  I’m not a survivalist.  I can’t make a bow string yet out of the backstrap of a deer. <laughter>

Andrew Krivak: But when you know what it’s like to sleep in snow or fire’s your source of heat for a couple days, it’s not a quick jump to understand what it’s like to be in this environment for a long time, But yes.  I did a lot of research, and I’ve tried to actually go ahead and do those things so, you know, they can be done.  Also, my grandmother was an immigrant from Eastern Europe, and she was always foraging in the woods for mushrooms and sassafras roots and things you could eat, so I picked up a lot of that too from her, and those things were just both in the background of my accumulated knowledge, and then to make them more specific I went ahead and did some research as well, so yes.

Jo Reed: The girl ages in ways that might be unfamiliar to many of us in terms of her capabilities at different ages and what’s expected of her at different ages.  I mean, childhood goes on a lot longer now than it used to.

Andrew Krivak: <laughs> That’s for sure.

Jo Reed: You know, 50 years ago, 200 years ago. <laughs>

Andrew Krivak: Right.  Exactly.

Jo Reed: So at age five, she and her father make a very long, rigorous climb up a mountain, and she’s not being carried.  She’s walking.

Andrew Krivak: Right.

Jo Reed: With her little pack.

Andrew Krivak: That’s right.  Yeah.

Jo Reed: And so talk about this aging process and the way she comes to her maturity at stages that we might be surprised at.

Andrew Krivak: Right.  So that’s such a great question.  There is an element of the past in this book that I’ve sought after in the same way that it happens in the far distant future, so again, that compression of time.  But, you know, I’ve thought about her.  I have a daughter who’s probably about the age of the girl now, just before they went out on the sea journey, and I’ve climbed Monadnock multiple times and it always amazes me to see the age of children who are with their parents as they climb.  My middle son climbed it with me when he was six, and I’ve seen four-year-old kids scamper up it with their parents, and they’re not in backpacks.  They’re not being carried.  So that verisimilitude, for lack of a better word, it’s stretched at the same time as it’s, you know, giving the girl a kind of quality and a strength that I really believe a character like that would have in those circumstances because, you know, I’ve seen those hints of it in kids right now, and also too, I think pressed with or being in a situation, being in a present moment, again, where you have to do these things, you will step up and do these things when they’re required and as they’re required.  So I think the coming of age of the girl is really something I was invested in making sure I not got right but just understood as possible with respect to strength.  Like this is an intensely powerful and capable young woman who is rightly so carrying the end of the human line, you know, if you will, so that’s how I was envisioning.  A real hero, and that’s to mirror as well the stories that her father told her, so she does understand that out of the past there is this capability of doing great things, and that’s her arc, her narrative arc.

Jo Reed: The girl has animal guides, but they’re not apparitions.

Andrew Krivak: They’re not.

Jo Reed: The bear is a bear.

Andrew Krivak: Yes.

Jo Reed: The puma is a puma.

Andrew Krivak: Exactly.

Jo Reed: They speak to her.  They take care of her when she most needs it.

Andrew Krivak: Right.

Jo Reed: Was that a leap for you as a writer?  Did you give yourself pause or did you just say, “No.  That bear would be there and he would help her out”?

Andrew Krivak: I certainly gave myself pause, because...
<laughter>

Andrew Krivak: Yeah.  It was no something I undertook lightly, and in fact, there’s an earlier iteration where the bear just talks way too much.  So I had to <laughs> back off.  Only what was necessary the bear only communicates, and I even stopped talking about the bear talking.  It’s more like his communication.  But, at a certain point, I just decided, “If this is how it’s going to shake it out as a story then...”  Then you have to go with it and see where it leads.

Jo Reed: Well, here’s the question I have for you.

Andrew Krivak: Okay.

Jo Reed: It is not a stretch for me at all to see, to think, believe, know, that all things in nature have language.  That I’m not privy to but that is there.  But here’s the question I have.  I think what makes us human is that we can tell stories.  What do you think?  Do you think things in nature having language, do you think they can also tell stories?

Andrew Krivak: I think absolutely.  And in fact--

Jo Reed: Oh.

Andrew Krivak: Yeah.  Absolutely.

Jo Reed: Tell me more.

Andrew Krivak: Well, to go back to the initial conversation where I said if nature’s not an actual protagonist, which is the first actor, then at least on a level playing field with humans, and I feel like as humans we have a certain hubris about the fact that we do tell stories, and to me, storytelling used to define us as humans, but now I’ve opened that up a bit more and think about the fact that I think story, which is to say an identity of the arc of being, you know, the act of being, is real in all of nature, and I wanted to sort of write something that goes against that, that hubris that humans have that we’re somehow at the top and we understand all the stuff that nature doesn’t because animals can’t understand this or can’t understand that, and I don’t know what that understanding is like.  As you said.  I’m glad you said.  It’s a communication I am not privy to and don’t imagine I ever would be, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible, and so the simple fact that, you know, you think about how long we’ve been around, it’s-- anyone will you, it’s not long at all.  I mean, the dinosaurs got 250 million years.  It’s not that there’s a-- that these reptiles had a better sense of storytelling, <laughs> and I don’t want to go that far, but to think of the earth as a living thing, the earth somehow in that stretch of time, there we go, the question of time, but in that stretch, in the arc of its own being, I do believe there’s the arc of a narrative that’s part of some larger plot, if you will.  So as I think about that more and more it just spins out and at certain point I have to stop and <laughs> back off and just read a novel.

Jo Reed: <laughs> No.  Well, I’m happy to rethink this.  “The Bear,” as I’m sure you’ve discussed, has elements of a fable, and not the least of which, not giving names to the characters, I think.  You know, the girl, the man, the bear.

Andrew Krivak: Right.

Jo Reed: Tell me your thinking about not giving them names.

Andrew Krivak: Yeah.  So it seemed to me that in the-- well, let’s take for instance the Judeo-Christian creation story in Genesis.  Humans are given the …

Jo Reed: Task.

Andrew Krivak: Yes.  The task.  Thank you.  Of naming things, and so I thought at the end, first of all, again, to take that away from humans, it’s not so much a bad thing as it’s just like, “Okay, you don’t need to do that anymore,” and with respect to the man and the girl, they don’t need to call each other.  They don’t need to summon each other because they’re there all the time together.  There was a moment where I had the bear, in a prior iteration, ask the girl, “So what did the man call you?” and she said, “What do you mean?”  He said, “Well, if you weren’t by his side, how would he call you to-- him?  and she said, “I was always at his side,” and so that, that notion of the two of them living so closely, meant, to me, that there’s just no need for a name, that connection was so deep and so close between the two of them.  So this idea of a name, I just thought, “I’m going to leave it out.  It’s not necessary.”

Jo Reed: Why no dogs in the book?

Andrew Krivak: Ah.  That’s good question.  I think I have dogs in every other book I’ve written.

Jo Reed: I know.

Andrew Krivak: Yeah, yeah.  Well, so dog to me are so closely linked to the-- to humans and humans domesticizing dogs, that I thought, “Well, if these are the last two then the dogs have gone the way of the other humans.”  So it was mostly a decision I made based on the fact that humans domesticated dogs, so dogs are no longer part of this deeply natural place.  But it’s out of no, you know, no disrespect to dogs.

Jo Reed: No, I didn’t think it was.

Andrew Krivak: <laughs> Yeah.

Jo Reed: And I kind of thought that was the reasoning.

Andrew Krivak:    Dogs are characters too in some of my novels, and so that would’ve been, you know, in my estimation, the last three, so...
<laughter>

Jo Reed: Really.

Andrew Krivak: Yeah.

Jo Reed: There’s a circularity to this book that I so appreciated, and you talked about, and I certainly felt it, it felt like it was a tale of old that’s been passed, almost like an Ur story that’s been passed down, rather than something so far to the future, but then the way time collapses and it just all comes together in like a circle.

Andrew Krivak: Huh.  Yeah.  Let me ask you a question then.

Jo Reed: Sure.

Andrew Krivak: Given that question.  Who tells the story of “The Bear”?

Jo Reed: Exactly.  That was my next question.  So who tells the story? <laughs>

Andrew Krivak: Well...

Jo Reed: Well, go ahead.  You wrote it.  What do you think?

Andrew Krivak: Well-- I did write it, but I’ll tell you that this goes right back to your question of does nature have the capacity for storytelling. Is it a future bear?  Is it nature itself?  Is it--

Jo Reed: The trees?

Andrew Krivak: The trees?  A story is told, and I think I would leave it there.

Jo Reed: Yeah.

Andrew Krivak: Yeah.

Jo Reed: I loved that I was thinking differently at the end of the book.

Andrew Krivak: Thank you. 

Jo Reed: There’s a poetic quality to this book, so I really wasn’t surprised to see you had begun your writing life as a poet.

Andrew Krivak: Yes, yeah.  Poetry’s my first love, as it were, so-- and I think also where I really thought about language, putting language down on the page.  You know, what is this, what’s the quality of this word?  How does this sentence balance itself?  I’m also a frustrated musician, so because I could never make it as a piano player I decided to write poetry instead, so there’s that quality as well of writing. 

Jo Reed: And talk a little bit about that shift to prose.

Andrew Krivak: Yeah.  I think just practically I wrote a lot of poetry.  I studied in a creative writing program at Columbia in the late ‘80s with some great poets.  It was just incredible and so I kept at the poetry and at a certain point, you know, every poet wants to get the poetry out there into the journals and the magazines and write books, and I wasn’t finding an acceptance, and I do remember a comment back from one of the editors saying that, “Your poetry’s too much of a narrative quality to it,” and I think I took that with me for a long time so that once I started writing prose creatively I felt, oddly enough, like I was free to just write a sentence as opposed to measure a line of poetry, and it could open up and actually be narrative.  So I started to get the same satisfaction out of really good line of prose that I did when I used to when I thought I had written a good line of poetry, and then-- and I guess I just always wanted to tell stories.  I should say I haven’t looked back because funnily enough I do have a short chapbook of poems that just came out a couple months ago called “Ghosts of the Monadnock Wolves” that I call my New Hampshire poems, so I just put that together with the Chestnut Review in Cornell in Ithaca, New York.  So I still write poetry, but it’s more for myself.  I write poems for my wife on birthdays or anniversaries, thing like that.

Jo Reed:  Your other two novels are quite different than “The Bear.”  They have autobiographical elements.  They’re about different generations of the Vinich family, both in the Old Country and in Pennsylvania.  So this is kind of a two-part question of why you decided to leave the Vinich family-- well, then my second part is and are you returning to them?  But to...
<laughter>

Jo Reed: To go to write “The Bear.”  What compelled you to write this tale?

Andrew Krivak: Yeah, so the Vinich family started in my first novel “The Sojourn.”  I had just heard so many stories about World War I, my grandmother growing up in the Old Country, that Jozef Vinich in that story around World War I is really an amalgam of all those stories, and it’s as though I had lived my life in Pennsylvania in that family listening to the stories so I could get to that story and tell it.  My editor used to say she thought somehow, I just channeled that novel, it came out.  It was a lot more work than that, but I guess I just felt like I needed to write-- as a writer, I needed to tell that story for myself about that place in Pennsylvania, those people I grew up with, real Old Country souls, and so “The Sojourn,” I imagined, would be a big, epic, sprawling book about World War I and it turned into a novel that’s, you know, only slightly <laughs> longer than “The Bear.”  And I think it just had to be that way, because as I wrote it, I started paring away more and more and more, just getting it right down to that essential story.  “The Sojourn” is told, actually told, in 1972 about 1918, so that distance of those, of those generations, is really about storytelling as well.  So I would imagine Jozef Vinich sitting in a kitchen telling the story of “The Sojourn” in much the same way that I used to sit next to my grandmother and listen to her tell stories in her kitchen.  So “The Signal Flame” picks up the next month in 1972 and moves to a time when I was, you know, about 10, 9 or 10, just wondering about Vietnam.  You know, I had older brothers.  Would they go?  They didn’t eventually.  The draft stopped by then, but it was a real sort of time where I as a boy wondered, “Okay.  Everyone I know has gone to a war and fought that war and then gotten on with their lives.  What’s the war I would fight?” and so I didn’t, but I went back to that sense of, “what do the generations of men at work look like?”  So “The Signal Flame” became my home front novel and really my Pennsylvania novel.  I had to write that, and yes, to answer your question, I have returned to Dardan, Pennsylvania, and the Vinich-Konar family in the next novel, which is set for 2023.  It’s called “Like the Appearance of Horses,” and it’s a sweep of the longer history of the Vinich-Konar family from about 1933 to 2003, and it’s put together in loosely connected not exactly short stories but chapters that stand on their own.  So you will get a longer sweep of generation of men at war.

Jo Reed: “The Bear” was chosen for the NEA’s Big Read program.  Congratulations.

Andrew Krivak: Yeah.  Yes, thank you very much.  That was such an honor.  Is an honor.

Jo Reed: And as you know, that means communities around the country are going to read this book and they’re going to read it as a community, and I wonder what questions you’re hoping “The Bear” will provoke.

Andrew Krivak: Yeah.  So let’s go back to Tibbetts Brook for a second.  Well, I hope that it would provoke some real, on-the-ground questions about what to do in a community about the environment that’s right there.  You know, are there projects that a community needs to take up again, look at again, give some funding to?  That would be really exciting for me, to see something like that, to see “The Bear” spark a project like that.  I also would hope that it would create conversations about a larger relationship with nature.  In rural communities, are we closer to nature? In spite of the fact that we just bump up against it all the time, can we get closer?  Can we really turn our heads and look at what’s right in front of us and say, “Hm, we need to be better stewards of this land”?  And perhaps in cities, questions about understanding different communities that are more rural and don’t have the resources that big cities do.  I’m speaking at Somerville, Massachusetts, a city that’s just west of Boston, and I wondered about a kind of thing where, you know, I would love to see people from Somerville get together with people from Jaffrey, New Hampshire, and have that group climb Mount Monadnock and just look out and say, “This is our land.  This is where we live,” and you could see towns.  You could see the Blue Hill Observatory from Monadnock and you could look around and see all the green of New Hampshire and western Mass.  So I think that’s a start of what I would envision.

Jo Reed: And I think that is a good place to end it.  Andrew, thank you so much.

Andrew Krivak: Well, thank you, Jo.  Appreciate that.

Jo Reed: And thank you for writing this book.  It was <laughs> really quite wonderful.

Andrew Krivak: Thank you.  It’s entirely my pleasure.

Jo Reed: That was Andrew Krivak whose novel The Bear is one of the titles chosen for the NEA’s Big Read program—you can find a link to the Big Read in our show notes. You’ve been listening to Art Works produced by the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

Andrew Krivak’s novel The Bear, which is a recent NEA Big Read title, is a story about the last of humanity. Yet the book somehow is remarkably hopeful. Set far into the future, it’s a fable that seems as old as time with a sense wonder that weaves throughout it. Without humans, or with the last of humans, nature has reclaimed its prominence and its rhythms once again prevail. The last two humans, a father and daughter, understand and live within those rhythms, which they must in order to survive. In this podcast, Krivak talks about how the book began for him, his desire to write a book in which nature was a protagonist, his love of storytelling, and his hopes for the conversations The Bear will provoke as an NEA Big Read title.