ONE GREAT THING about living in a university town is being exposed to the interesting people the school brings in, and in Tucson we are fortunate to have attracted the novelist Elizabeth Evans. "When this job came up I thought, that's my dream job. I love the desert," she explains. In 1987 she and her husband moved here from Iowa City; after 13 years, they plan to stay.
Tucson has proven productive for Evans. Besides teaching, which she enjoys because the "students continually amaze me; even the undergraduates are so smart," Evans has published three novels over the last six years: The Blue Hour in 1994, the psychological thriller Carter Clay in 1999 (an LA Times "Best Book of 1999"), and Rowing in Eden this year. Suicide's Girlfriend, a collection of short stories, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in 2001, and she's been solicited to write an online USAToday.com book in installments.
Despite her upcoming involvement with the Internet, Evans demonstrates a passion for printed works. "I love books," she says. "I love to carry them around and I love the feel of their pages and their smell." She started writing poetry as a child in her native Iowa. Writing led to a Master's of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa and a lifelong obsession. "I write whenever I can," she says, "at home, in cars, in airports, wherever. I try to write every day and I encourage my students to do the same. I also am a great reader. Write and read every day."
Unsurprisingly, Evans names George Eliot's Middlemarch as one of her favorite books. Both The Blue Hour and Rowing in Eden have a similar quality of presenting a self-contained world, populated with numerous distinct characters at different levels of society. Evans is largely concerned with emotions and character, something she considers a more feminine novelistic preoccupation, though she tries not to let politics interfere with the stories. Other influences are Alice Munro, William Trevor and Edna O'Brien, all "great storytellers." Evans makes a funny analogy about influences: "You absorb them like food. If you eat pork chops, you don't end up producing pork chops. Besides, really great works are inimitable."
Although Evans guiltily admits to being a homebody (she's also an avid birder and carries her binoculars everywhere), she's making a number of appearances around town. She's definitely someone to watch.
Hear Elizabeth Evans at Borders Books and Music Cafe, 5870 E. Broadway Blvd. on October 13 at 7 p.m., and at Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave. on November 10 at 7 p.m.