Authors: Lorrie Moore

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

American short-story writer and novelist

January 13, 1957

Glen Falls, New York


Lorrie Moore emerged in the late twentieth century as a strong new voice in American fiction. Born Marie Lorena Moore, she was later nicknamed Lorrie by her parents, Henry T. Moore Jr., an insurance executive, and Jeanne Day Moore, who left a career in nursing to become a homemaker. As students, both parents had demonstrated literary aspirations; her father wrote short stories while a classmate of Evan S. Connell and Vincent Canby at Dartmouth College. However, Moore was not encouraged by her parents to pursue writing as a career, even though she displayed an early interest in creative writing. {$I[A]Moore, Lorrie} {$I[geo]WOMEN;Moore, Lorrie} {$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Moore, Lorrie} {$I[tim]1957;Moore, Lorrie}

Lorrie Moore.

By Zane Williams, CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

As an undergraduate at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, she chose English as her major—despite her enthusiasm for playing the piano—and was editor of the literary journal. When she was nineteen years old, Moore won Seventeen magazine’s fiction-writing contest for her short story “Raspberries.” She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1978 and worked as a paralegal in Manhattan for two years before entering the MFA program at Cornell University.

At Cornell, she studied with novelist Alison Lurie, whose agent presented Moore’s work to the Knopf publishing company in 1983. Two years later, Knopf published Moore’s first collection of short fiction, Self-Help. The stories, most of which were written as part of her master’s thesis at Cornell, mimic the style of self-improvement manuals of the day. “How to Become a Writer” ostensibly is pitched to budding authors, encouraging them first to consider abandoning their literary ambitions. The disjointed narrative of “How to Be an Other Woman” relates the shifting identity of a woman narrator who becomes involved romantically with a married man and discovers that she is not the only “other woman” in the arrangement. Notably, Moore’s use of second-person point of view in Self-Help represents an experiment with perspective that continues throughout the body of her work. Critics praised the stories for their witty depictions of contemporary life.

By the time Self-Help appeared, Moore had accepted the post of assistant professor in the English department at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. During this period, she returned to New York every summer, drawn to the energy of the city and loath to abandon that part of her life. Eventually, however, she married and settled in Madison with her husband, Mark, an attorney. The apparent alienation she experienced as a young academic in the Midwest reverberates throughout much of her work in stories that feature woman protagonists (often academics) who find themselves at odds with boyfriends or husbands who are not their intellectual matches.

Moore’s first novel, Anagrams, was published in 1986 to mixed reviews, but her second collection of short fiction, Like Life, was roundly acclaimed four years later. It included “You’re Ugly, Too,” which was the first of her stories to be published in The New Yorker and was included among the O. Henry Awards and Best American Short Stories in 1989. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, a novel focusing on the friendship of two adolescent girls, was also well received.

In 1998, her third book, Birds of America, appeared. This collection of short fiction was hailed as the product of a mature artist and included the short story “People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk,” which had been published previously in The New Yorker and had won an O. Henry Prize. The story of a mother who must deal with her infant’s serious illness was speculated by some readers to be an account of Moore’s experience as the mother of a young son with cancer. Moore said that, though her son’s illness prompted her to write the story, it is not autobiographical. Critic Vince Passaro called the story a “small masterpiece.”

Moore was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1989), a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship (1989), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1991). Her work has been included several times in Best American Short Stories and in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards and has been published in such magazines and journals as The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Paris Review. She returned to Cornell in 1990 as a visiting associate professor, became a full professor at Wisconsin in 1991, and in 2000 served as Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence at Baruch College.

After a compilation of many of her previously published stories as well as a handful of unpublished pieces were included in the United Kingdom's edition The Collected Stories in 2008, Moore tried her hand once more at longer fiction and ended an almost eleven-year hiatus with the publication of A Gate at the Stairs (2009). The book, which was even more well received than her previous novel efforts, follows the story of a young woman attending a Midwestern college and working as a nanny for a middle-aged couple awaiting an adoption. Praised for dealing successfully with significant topics such as race, A Gate at the Stairs was a finalist for the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award as well as the 2010 Orange Prize.

In 2013, Moore left the University of Wisconsin-Madison to assume a position as an endowed chair in the English department at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The following year, she published her first collection of original short stories in more than fifteen years, titled Bark. The collection, which includes eight stories, was largely praised by critics for its intriguing examination of the day-to-day.

On the whole, critics have received Moore’s short fiction more enthusiastically than her novels. In a review of Like Life, novelist and critic Stephen McCauley praised Moore for her “wry view of behavior wryly expressed.” Failed communication—between wives and their husbands, between adult children and their parents—is a recurring theme. Dark humor and irony, as well as innovative use of simile and point of view, have been identified as hallmarks of her writing, and her work has been compared to that of such American luminaries as Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Grace Paley, and Ann Beattie.

Author Works Short Fiction: Self-Help, 1985 Like Life, 1990 Birds of America, 1998 The Collected Stories, 2008 Bark, 2014 Long Fiction: Anagrams, 1986 Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, 1994 A Gate at the Stairs, 2009 Children’s/Young Adult Literature: The Forgotten Helper, 1987 Edited Text: I Know Some Things: Stories about Childhood by Contemporary Writers, 1992 (also known as The Faber Book of Contemporary Stories About Childhood, 1997) Bibliography Blades, John. “Lorrie Moore: Flipping Death the Bird.” Publishers Weekly (August 24, 1997): 31-32. In this preview for the upcoming publication of Birds of America, Blade provides an overview of Lorrie Moore’s successes. Moore defends herself against assumptions that she has had it too easy as a writer, and she defends her use of humor, which some critics have found excessive. Moore considers both Anagrams and Self-Help apprentice books. Lee, Don. “About Lorrie Moore.” Ploughshares (Fall, 1998): 224–229. An overview of Moore’s life and work. McCauley, Stephen. Review of Like Life, by Lorrie Moore. The New York Times Book Review, May 20, 1990, p. 7. Favorable review of the collection, with passing commentary on Self-Help and Anagrams. Moore, Lorrie. “The Booklist Interview: Lorrie Moore.” Interview by Molly McQuade. Booklist (October 15, 1998): 402–403. Moore discusses the use of absurdity in her work, her pessimistic rather than cynical worldview, and the craft of writing stories. Passaro, Vince. Review of Birds of America, by Lorrie Moore. Harper’s, August, 1999, 80-89. Passaro ranks Moore, along with David Foster Wallace and Lydia Davis, among the best contemporary short-story writers in the United States. In a review that includes commentary on several recent collections of short fiction, he examines the evolution of Moore’s writing from the early promise of Self-Help to the maturity of Birds of America. Wack, Arianne. "Is She Writing about Me? A Profile of Lorrie Moore." The Millions, 24 Feb. 2014, Accessed 22 Aug. 2017. An interview with Moore that includes discussions of her life and work, including Bark.

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