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Rebecca Makkai keeps on writing, and she couldn’t wish for more

Pulitzer finalist on success and teaching other writers
Rebecca Makkai's latest novel was named a Pulitzer finalist. Photo by Jim Prisching

“Ultimately, the prize for a successful book is simply that you buy yourself more time to write. You get to keep doing this,” says author Rebecca Makkai.

Thanks to her latest novel, “The Great Believers,” it appears she’ll have much more time to write.

The book follows parallel narratives: a mother’s search for her estranged daughter in Paris and a group of friends in Chicago during the AIDS crisis.

It was named a 2019 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Fiction. It has been shortlisted for the National Book Award, and The New York Times rated it one of the 10 best books of 2018. It also won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, the Stonewall Book Award, the Chicago Review of Books Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. 

Makkai is a faculty member in Northwestern’s School of Professional Studies. She teaches in the Prose and Poetry MFA program, as well as the Writing master’s program, where she works with talented writers of all stripes.

“I love our mix of students, both in their writing and life experience,” she says. “We have people of all ages and backgrounds together in one classroom, which benefits everyone.”

What goes down in her class is the transformative — and often painful — process that doesn't happen when you write alone in a room. It’s seeing your work from another’s perspective. 

“Not an easy thing,” she says.

Makkai's previous novels include “The Hundred-Year House” and “The Borrower,” as well as the short story collection “Music for Wartime.” Her short fiction has been anthologized in "The Pushcart Prize XLI" and "The Best American Short Stories." Her work also has been featured on Public Radio International’s “Selected Shorts” and “This American Life.”

“The Great Believers” is being optioned for a television series by Amy Poehler’s Paper Kite Productions.