Naugatuck native’s novel leads to Whiting Award

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By Luke Marshall, Staff Writer

Naugatuck native and author Andrea Lawlor is one of the 2020 Whiting Award recipients. –CONTRIBUTED

Naugatuck native and author Andrea Lawlor has always been passionate about reading.

“I was always a reader. I never thought I could be a writer, but I certainly read a lot. I’ve always loved books,” Lawlor said.

Lawlor, 49, eventually started to do more than read books. At the age of 30, Lawlor started writing — a path that lead to the publishing of the novel “Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl” in 2017.

The book follows the main character Paul, a bartender at a gay club and a shapeshifter who has the power to change form at will.

Lawlor has always been interested in transformation as a theme in Greek mythology and described the novel as a coming of age story about someone learning what it takes to be a person.

When the book was originally published, it was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. Now, three years later, the novel earned Lawlor another accolade.

Lawlor is one of the 2020 Whiting Award recipients. The Whiting Award is presented annually to ten emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and plays. The award also comes with a $50,000 grant to help emerging writers continue their work.

Writers have to be nominated for a Whiting Award.

“It was a total shock and a very welcome bit of good news,” Lawlor said about the award.

Lawlor lived in Naugatuck and graduated from Westover School in Middlebury in 1989 before heading off to college. Lawlor attended the University of Iowa and Temple University.

Lawlor now lives in Northampton, Mass., and is an assistant professor of English at Mount Holyoke College. Lawlor teaches introductory and advanced courses in creative writing, including fiction writing, poetry writing, creative writing for multilingual speakers, and queer and trans writing, according to a biography on the college’s website.

Lawlor’s path to becoming an author started at a writing workshop in San Francisco. After taking that workshop, Lawlor moved back east and enrolled in a program for poets and writers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

It was in this program where the character of Paul was born. Lawlor said Paul started out as a character in short stories. A professor at the college told Lawlor there was more to tell about Paul.

“It ultimately became a novel,” Lawlor said.

Lawlor said the novel started out as a retelling of the Greek mythological story of Tiresias, a man who was cursed by Hera to live as a woman for seven years.

“The structure of that fell away and what was left became the first part of the book,” Lawlor said.

Lawlor never expected the novel to lead to a Whiting Award.

“I was speechless. It is really an exciting group of people to be a part of,” Lawlor said.