Ann Hood’s bibliography is full of families both fictional and real. Family tragedy was the source of two memoirs, Do Not Go Gentle (2000) and Comfort (2008), and have informed her novels, including The Knitting Circle (2007) and The Red Thread (2010). In Hood’s work, family is a world unto itself: the particular ecosystems within them, the complicated love that grows there, and their lingering power. Hood says her childhood was similarly influential. “My grandmother and great-grandmother, aunts and uncles spoke only Italian, did not ever learn English, we were very superstitious, we were—well, an Italian-American family. And I both loved and wanted to reject that when I was in my teens. And about 13 years ago I started thinking about how lucky I was to have had that experience, and how lucky I was to know stories from my grandmother and even my great-grandmother.”
The idea of those connections passing through generations is at the heart of her newest novel, An Italian Wife, a family story that spans nearly a century and features a literary homecoming to New York for Hood. It required long contemplation, though she didn’t realize it at the time. “In a way I’ve been writing that book for 13 years,” she says. It began as short stories about a single family—working on them was often “the guilty pleasure” while writing something else. “I just continued to write these sort of stories... and last year I wrote one and dropped it in the file, and I looked [later] and said, ‘300 pages?’” Connecting the stories meant research into 1930s Italy, WWI, and Coney Island, though the legwork was part of the appeal: “I was that kid who loved writing term papers.”
An Italian Wife isn’t Hood’s family story, though some real-life details sneak onto the page. But besides the novel being a homecoming of sorts, Hood thinks her family’s influence began much sooner: her earliest storytelling lesson was sitting at the family table, trading tales. “You have to—number one, talk loudly—and number two, if the story’s not told well, you lost the floor.”
The experience has been invaluable in a life that’s had its share of public speaking; Hood worked as a flight attendant, is faculty at NYU’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing program, and travels for speaking engagements. She’s grateful for the hours in the air that rid her of any lingering stage fright: “For years I stood up there and said, ‘Welcome to Flight 872!’ I was up at that microphone... I’m up for almost anything, and I think a lot of that has to do with being a flight attendant.” So even though BEA was called ABA the last time Hood attended, she’s ready to premiere The Italian Wife in one of its hometowns, meet new readers, and share a family saga close to her heart: “I’m really excited about it.”
Hood signs today at the Norton booth (1921) at 10:30 a.m.