Harriet Doerr is best known for her 1984 autobiographical novel Stones for Ibarra, about a woman who moves to Mexico with her husband and lives in a small village. It is a book, Doerr said, about how “memories are like corks left out of bottles. They swell. They no longer fit.” She also is the author of a another novel about Mexico, Consider This, Senora, published in 1993.
The fact that Harriet Doerr was seventy-five when her first novel Stones for Ibarra was published was a source of fascination and even wonder for reviewers and interviewers. However, when the novel won the American Book Award the following year, critics were forced to admit that the most significant thing about Doerr was not her age but her talent. The book was a best-seller and has since become a twentieth century classic. Her novel Consider This, Senora also was a national best-seller. Her story “Edie: A Life” was included in The Best American Short Stories 1989.
Although known primarily for her novels, Harriet Doerr (dowr) also published short stories and essays. Most of her shorter works are collected in a volume of short stories, Under an Aztec Sun (1990), and in The Tiger in the Grass: Stories and Other Inventions (1995). Many pieces appeared first in anthologies, such as The Best American Short Stories (1989, 1991), or in magazines, such as Poets and Writers Magazine and The New Yorker.
Harriet Doerr was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing to Stanford University, 1980-1981; the Transatlantic Review’s Henfield Foundation Prize (London) for her short stories, 1982; a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1983 for the manuscript of Stones for Ibarra; and the American Book Award for first fiction in 1984 for Stones for Ibarra. In 1985 she received five fiction awards for Stones for Ibarra: awards from the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association, the PEN Center U.S.A. West, and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters as well as the Gold Medal for fiction from the Commonwealth Club of California and the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for quality of prose style from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Her seemingly simple prose is carefully crafted and polished to eliminate any unnecessary language, yet each phrase sparkles with meaning and poetic brilliance. Stones for Ibarra and Consider This, Señora both take place in Mexico, and Doerr manages to describe and bridge the gap between the native Mexicans and transplanted Americans, presenting a more accurate and more just portrayal of Mexicans than is typical of American fiction. Stones for Ibarra was adapted for a two-hour television film for the Columbia Broadcasting System’s Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1988.
Alarcón, Daniel Cooper. The Aztec Palimpsest: Mexico in the Modern Imagination. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997. Alarcón includes Stones for Ibarra in his examination of classic Anglo-American writings about Mexico.
Daley, Yvonne. “Late Bloomer.” Stanford Magazine, November/December, 1997, 76-79. A visit with Doerr at her home when she was eighty-seven years old and working on her autobiography.
Doerr, Harriet. “Enough About Age.” Interview by Pamela Warrick. The Los Angeles Times, August 27, 1993, p. E1. An interview with Doerr on the publication of Consider This, Senora. Doerr talks about her decision to get her college degree after her husband’s death in 1972 and her experience in the creative writing program at Stanford University. She talks about the importance of memory, saying that no experience one has had is ever lost.
Doerr, Harriet. “Harriet Doerr: When All of Life Is Important, the Search for the Right Word Is Endless.” Interview by Steve Profitt. The Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1999, p. 31. In this interview, Doerr talks about the lessons she learned from her life in Mexico, her matter-of-fact style, the importance of memory in her work, and her attitude toward mortality. Doerr says she sees no harm in the fact that the older one gets the more memory and imagination become the same.
Doerr, Harriet. “A Sleeve of Rain.” In The Writer on Her Work, Volume II: New Essays in New Territory, edited by Janet Sternburg. New York: Norton, 1991. Through the lens of the homes in which she spent her life, Doerr reminisces and shares autobiographical details.
Doerr, Harriet. Interview by Lisa See. Publishers Weekly 240 (August 9, 1993):...
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