A Conversation with Evanston Native Audrey Niffenegger, Author of “The Time Traveler’s Wife”

Audrey Niffenegger is having a good year.

Six years after the publication of her blockbuster best-seller “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” the book has been made into a movie starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams and has returned to the top of The New York Times best-seller list in paperback.

The 46-year-old Evanston native made headlines earlier this year when she sold her second novel for a pretty $5 million. “Her Fearful Symmetry,” due out in next month, is a ghost story about two girls from the Chicago suburbs living in their dead aunt’s apartment in London.

In her work as a visual artist—she’s a faculty member at Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book & Paper Arts—Niffenegger recently completed a serialized graphic novel, “The Night Bookmobile,” that was published in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian and exhibited at Printworks Gallery in River North. The graphic novel will be published in book form next year.

She is now at work on her third novel, “The Chinchilla Girl in Exile,” about a 9-year-old girl with a condition that causes her to be covered in hair.

Make It Better’s Associate Editor Liz Logan managed to track down Niffenegger to ask her a few questions.

LL: How long did you live in Evanston? Did growing up there influence your development as an artist and a writer?

AN: My family moved to Evanston when I was two, and I moved to Chicago at 36. I enjoyed Evanston Township High School because it was full of odd, smart, artistic people.

LL: Has the North Shore community been supportive of your career?

AN: Annette and Scott Turow were very influential on my prospects and success as a writer. They were encouraging and helpful when I was trying to get published. Annette read my manuscript and encouraged Scott to read it. He chose it for “The Today Show” book club, and that, of course, was huge—very helpful, indeed. I met Annette through the Evanston Art Center, when she was a board member and I was on the faculty.

LL: What do you do to give back?AN: I serve on the board of the Ragdale Foundation and donate to various arts organizations. And I teach.

LL: What’s the weirdest experience you’ve had as a result of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” being a hit and being made into a movie?

AN: Being recognized on the street is always a bit weird, but it doesn’t happen often.

LL: And what’s been the best part of your success?

AN: Working with ultra-skilled editors and my excellent agents, and meeting other writers.

LL: Novels, graphic novels, art, teaching—do you ever sleep?

AN: I don’t sleep much. But I also don’t have kids or watch television, and that frees up a lot of time.

LL: You completed both of your novels—”Her Fearful Symmetry” in particular—without contracts or advances. How do you motivate yourself to finish?

AN: At the beginning it can be a slog, but as I get closer to finishing the book it’s as though it wants to be done.

LL: Are there similarities between “Her Fearful Symmetry” and “The Time Traveler’s Wife”?

AN: They are both about the effects of loss.

LL: Are the processes of making visual art and writing similar for you? Do they just flow to together?

AN: I have work habits that help me to working either medium, but they are different experiences. As a writer I am thinking about the project all the time, having little voices in my head and problem-solving while I go about my life. As an artist I tend to think about the work more when it is in front of me. More of the problem-solving happens when I’m using my hands.

LL: Of your many projects, what are you most proud of?

AN: Oh gosh—that’s like asking which cat you love best. Always my latest project, because that represents my thinking now.

To catch Audrey Niffenegger in person, head to these upcoming readings in Chicago:

Sept. 29, 6 p.m. at the Newberry Library, Ruggles Hall, 60 West Walton St.
Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m. at The Swedish Museum, 5211 North Clark St.

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