Graffiti Artist and President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Club: A Conversation with Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier may be best known for her novel (and the movie bearing its name), Girl with a Pearl Earring, but D.C. knows her (or should!) as one of our own! Politics & Prose is excited to welcome her back on March 18 at 7 p.m. when she reads from her latest book, At the Edge of the Orchard, at our Connecticut Avenue store. We spoke to the bestselling author about Johnny Appleseed, the cherry blossoms, and returning home to where it all began.

We must start with District pride — you grew up in Washington, DC! With your upcoming visit back to the area, are there any favorite local spots or must-dos you’d recommend (and perhaps will try to squeeze in on this trip)?

I was thrilled to find out the cherry blossoms will be out while I’m there! I’m trying to work in a quick drive around to see them before I head for points south. Kenwood too of course is wonderful for cherry blossoms, and it’s not far from where I grew up.

I was also driving around the Beltway the other evening and came upon that fabulous view of the Mormon Temple. When I was a teenager people had spraypainted SURRENDER DOROTHY on one of the overpasses nearby. I noticed it was painted out, and had a sneaking desire to head there in the middle of the night to reinstate the words!

In interviews you’ve previously mentioned being a fervent young reader and a frequent face in the library. Can you share some of those early favorite books and, perhaps, any early thoughts of being a writer?

I was just in Takoma, D.C., my old neighborhood growing up, and I stopped at Takoma Public Library. It was surprising still very much as I’d remembered (though smaller, as everything is when you come back to something as an adult). The windows were the same, the wooden shelves, even the smell. It made me a little tearful. It was also a thrill to see my books on the shelf there. That was a dream come true.

My favorite books there as a child were the Freddy the Pig books by Walter R. Brooks, and of course the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series. I was President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder club, which met in the library basement. I went down there too to look, and smiled.

Your books vividly bring history to life even as the specific times and places differ greatly, from Vermeer’s world in Girl With a Pearl Earring to your latest novel, At the Edge of the Orchard, set in the American frontier. What brought you to this story of a family in Ohio (and back to the US)?

I was reading about how the myth of Johnny Appleseed was just that — a myth. The real man was more businesslike, and sold apple trees that usually produced sour apples for making cider and applejack with — not healthy eating. An idea came into my head of a pioneer couple arguing over apples, and from there the story grew.

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