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Rockville Native Andrew Sean Greer On The Local Origins of His Pulitzer Prize-Winning Novel

He used to work at Politics and Prose, but now he does readings there.

Photograph of Greer by Kaliel Roberts.

Rockville native Andrew Sean Greer was shocked when his latest book, Less, won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The comic novel follows a writer as he travels from Morocco to Berlin to Mexico to avoid attending his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. “Greer is brilliantly funny about the awkwardness that awaits a traveling writer of less repute,” wrote the Washington Post’s Ron Charles, who will chat with Greer at this appearance (free). Just days after he won the prize, the Georgetown Day School alum talked to us from Italy—where he lives part-time—as he lounged on a ferry on Lake Como.

You actually used to work at Politics and Prose. While you were there, did you ever daydream about coming back one day after you’d just won a Pulitzer?

I’m sure I imagined that I would come back and I would show them all, the way you do when you’re a bratty teenager. Honestly, I did not ever imagine I would win the Pulitzer Prize, which I’m still stuttering at—no. It was enough, for my first book [in 1999], to come back and give a reading there.

What was that like?

I’m trying to remember myself at 29. My guess is that I probably was more arrogant than now. I bet that I didn’t know how to really do a reading, so I went on too long, took too many questions, and just enjoyed it thinking I’d never do it again. I just sort of indulged myself. Now I have a sense of what a reading should be, which is that you’re trying to engage the audience and in some way entertain them. I’m sure at that point I just wanted to show off, which is also perfectly fine.

Are there any places in Less that you based on Rockville?

The main character is so like me that I kept trying to change little things so I wouldn’t make it auto­biographical. So he’s from Camden, Delaware. That was my stand-in for Rockville. He mentions it only briefly.

Have you ever been to Camden, Delaware?

No. I mean, have I been to Delaware? I don’t think I have. It’s more rural and farmy, isn’t it?

There are a lot of outlets.

Outlets, right! I was just like, “I can’t say Maryland, and I’m not going to say Virginia because it’s basically the same.” I picked Delaware because I thought, well, no one will ever ask me about that.

Andrew Sean Greer will be at Politics and Prose (Connecticut Avenue) on June 5.

This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

Rosa is a senior editor at Bitch Magazine. She’s written for Washingtonian and Smithsonian magazine.