5 Questions: Clare Beams

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Clare Beams is the author of the story collection We Show What We Have Learned (Lookout Books, Oct. 2016). Her stories appear in One Story, n+1, Ecotone, The Common, the Kenyon Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and have received special mention in The Best American Short Stories 2013 and The Pushcart Prize XXXV. She recently moved with her husband and daughter to Pittsburgh, where she teaches creative writing at Saint Vincent College and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts — and will be launching We Show What We Have Learned at White Whale Bookstore on October 25th!

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From the publisher: “The literary, historic, and fantastic collide in these wise and exquisitely unsettling stories. From bewildering assemblies in school auditoriums to the murky waters of a Depression-era health resort, Beams’s landscapes are tinged with otherworldliness, and her characters’ desires stretch the limits of reality.”

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Joyce Carol Oates: “A dazzling story collection—as if, by a rare sort of magic, Alice Munro and Shirley Jackson had conspired together to imagine a female/feminist voice for the twenty-first century that is wickedly sharp-eyed, wholly unpredictable, and wholly engaging.”


What comes to mind when you think of Pittsburgh? (And living here, where is your favorite spot to read, think, or write?)

We moved here three years ago, when my daughter was 6 months old, so I think what comes to mind for me now is her babyhood/toddlerhood — it turns out this is an amazing place to raise a kid. I suppose this is another way of saying that Pittsburgh has become home.

For thinking, I love walks in Frick Park. Most of my reading and writing happens in my house, or yard, just because I focus best when it’s quiet.

What books are on your nightstand?

Right now, Kelly Link’s Get In Trouble, Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand (a current hit with my daughter), Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s Record of a School (for an essay I’m writing), and Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.

Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film?

Movies made from books I love tend to make me a little nervous. I just don’t want the images in my head messed with. But the whole time I was reading Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life I kept wondering how would you film this?, because of that book’s fascinating structure. And I just Googled and it looks like a movie’s maybe in the works, so I might get to find out!

What did you do when you first read the glowing magical blurb from Joyce Carol Oates describing you as the modern feminist spawn of Alice Munro and Shirley Jackson?

It was Christmas Eve, and I think my husband and I were driving our daughter somewhere (to a playground, maybe? I seem to remember it was weirdly warm out). I think I shrieked. I can’t imagine two names she could have chosen to make me happier.

Who would you most want to share a plate of pierogis with?

You know who’s coming to mind? Margaret Atwood. I’d love to get her take on the pierogi, and many other things.

Author photo by Kristi Jan Hoover.


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