LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Amanda, you were born in New York. Would you tell us about your background and your family?
AMANDA EYRE WARD: My mother’s family is from Savannah, Georgia. My grandmother, Alice Marie Roux, met my grandfather (a “Yankee”!) on a cruise to Bermuda. When they married, they settled in New Jersey, where my mother was raised. My mother became a model and writer, and she and my father raised me and my three sisters in Rye, New York.
You’ve always traveled quite a bit, studying in Massachusetts and Montana, teaching in Greece, spending time in Kenya and Egypt. Would you tell us about what drove your decisions to learn and live in such diverse locales?
I wanted to see what sort of a life was possible. Traveling makes me very happy—I still travel as much as I possibly can. Seeing the world as a visitor—even in my own hometown—is essential to my writing.
At what point did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
I was first and foremost a reader. Still am. I read to learn, to escape, to become someone else for a time. It wasn't until college when I saw a class titled Fiction 101 that it occurred to me that I could write for a living!
How would you describe your “first big break”?
On my thirtieth birthday, my first novel Sleep Toward Heaven, was sold to a young editor named Anika Streitfeld. Meeting Anika (whom I later followed to Random House) taught me so much about how a book should be edited and rewritten.
For our readers not familiar with your most recent book, The Same Sky, would you describe it for them?
The Same Sky is a story about two people who yearn for something that is just outside their lines of sight. Set along the Texas/Mexico border and in the Austin barbecue community, it is—to me—a story about coming home.
Hands-on research seems to be a big part of your writing, and you actually spent time with agencies working on behalf of undocumented children for The Same Sky. Would you tell us what that was like?
Heartbreaking, amazing, harrowing. And I learned the meaning of faith from the children I met. I think about them all the time.
The Same Sky is your sixth book, how has publishing changed since you began your career?
How fiction is marketed and sold has completely changed, but what I do—typing alone in my pajamas—remains the same.
You have been very generous in your praise of Austin as your home. How does it inform your writing?
I find the whole state of Texas fascinating—full of bright characters and endless contradictions. There are so many stories here. I am also obsessed with barbecue!
Which Texas writers do you enjoy reading?
Mary Helen Specht, Owen Egerton, Sarah Bird, Elizabeth Crook, Stephen Harrigan, Karen Olsson, and my friend Dalia Azim, who is still polishing her wonderful first novel.
Since barbecue plays a large role in The Same Sky, are there any key insights you learned from your research?
Oh, yes! Low and slow is really the big takeaway. You can’t imitate the flavor of meat cooked for a long time over carefully tended flames. You just can’t. I am currently a fan of La BBQ, Brown's BBQ, J Mueller, and (whenever I can get it) Franklin’s BBQ.
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Praise for Amanda Eyre Ward's The Same Sky
“Ward is deeply sympathetic to her characters, and this affecting novel is sure to provoke conversations about immigration and adoption.” —New York Times Book Review
“A deeply affecting look at the contrast between middle-class U.S. life and the brutal reality of Central American children so desperate they’ll risk everything.” —People
“After reading The Same Sky, you just might view the world a little differently. And isn’t that the goal of all great art?” —Bookreporter
“Emotionally gripping . . . a novel that brilliantly attaches us to broader perspectives. It is a needed respite from the angry politics surrounding border issues that, instead of dividing us, connects us to our humanity.” —The Dallas Morning News
“It takes a skilled, compassionate writer to craft an authentic, moving page-turner from a complex social issue like immigration, but Ward nails it.” —Good Housekeeping
“Poignant and bittersweet . . . Eyre’s wrenching fifth novel is a study in contrasts. . . . Carla’s journey is powerfully rendered and will stick with readers long after they close the book.” —Publishers Weekly
Amanda Eyre Ward was born in New York City in 1972. She majored in English and American Studies at Williams College and spent her junior fall in coastal Kenya. After graduation, she taught at Athens College in Greece for a year, and then moved to Missoula, Montana. Ward received her MFA from the University of Montana.
In 1998, Ward moved to Austin, Texas, where she began working on Sleep Toward Heaven. She wrote for the Austin Chronicle and worked for a variety of Internet startups. In 1999, she won third prize in the Austin Chronicle short story contest with her story “Miss Montana’s Wedding Day.” She published “Butte as in Beautiful” that same year. Sleep Toward Heaven, published in 2003, won the Violet Crown Book Award and was optioned for film by Sandra Bullock and Fox Searchlight. Her second novel, How to Be Lost, was published in 2004 and was selected as a Target Bookmarked pick, and has been published in fifteen countries. To research her third novel, Forgive Me (2007) Ward traveled with her sister, Liza Ward Bennigson, to Cape Town, South Africa. Her fourth novel, Close Your Eyes (2011), was named to Kirkus' Best Books of 2011 and named Magazine’s Fiction Book of the Year. Ward's fifth novel, The Same Sky, was published in 2015.