5 Questions with Elizabeth Crane, Author of The History of Great Things

history of great thingsAuthor Elizabeth Crane is at City Lights this Tuesday, April 12, celebrating her new book, The History of Great Things: A Novel, published by Harper Perennial. She’ll be in conversation with Eden Lepucki. Matthew Zapruder will be the master of ceremonies for this special evening. More about Elizabeth, her new book, and her answers, below.

Event: Tuesday, April 12 at 7:00PM. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About The History of Great Things: In two beautifully counterpoised narratives, two women—mother and daughter—try to make sense of their own lives by revisiting what they know about each other. The History of Great Things tells the entwined stories of Lois, a daughter of the Depression Midwest who came to New York to transform herself into an opera star, and her daughter, Elizabeth, an aspiring writer who came of age in the 1970s and ’80s in the forbidding shadow of her often-absent, always larger-than-life mother. In a tour de force of storytelling and human empathy, Elizabeth chronicles the events of her mother’s life, and in turn Lois recounts her daughter’s story—pulling back the curtain on lifelong secrets, challenging and interrupting each other, defending their own behavior, brandishing or swallowing their pride, and, ultimately, coming to understand each other in a way that feels both extraordinary and universal.

About the Participants:

Elizabeth Crane is the author of the novel We Only Know So Much, and three collections of short stories: When the Messenger is Hot, All this Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Her stories have been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts. She is a recipient of the Chicago Public Library 21st Century Award, and her work has been adapted for the stage by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company. A feature film adaptation of We Only Know So Much will be released in 2016.

elizabeth crane

Edan Lepucki is the author of the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me originally published by Flatmancrooked, and recently re-released by Nouvella Press, and the best-selling novel California. The Los Angeles Times named her a Face to Watch for 2014.

Matthew Zapruder is a poet, editor, translator, and director of the MFA creative program at Saint Mary’s College of California. His poetry has been published by Copper Canyon Press and his work has also appeared in The Boston Review, The Believer, Fence, Bomb, McSweeney’s, Jubilat, Conduit, Harvard Review and many others. Together with Joshua Beckman he is co-editor of Wave Books.


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Elizabeth Crane: I was at City Lights on a stop for an Akashic tour for my third collection of stories, You Must Be This Happy to Enter. I was paired with Nina Revoyr and Abraham Rodriguez, two fantastic authors and humans, and we drove from Seattle to LA. City Lights was a highlight; I remember well the crowd spilling out the door of the upstairs room, the laughter and good San Francisco vibes. We felt the love!

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it sound like?

EC: It would be maybe the weirdest mix tape ever: “Caro Nome,” “Sempre Libera,” “Quando m’en vo,” West Side Story (“Tonight” medley, “Somewhere”), Pat Benatar (“Heartbreaker,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”), Quarterflash (“Harden My Heart”), Shawn Colvin (“Diamond in the Rough,” “Shotgun Down the Avalanche”), Billy Joel (“Rosalinda’s Eyes,” “Only the Good Die Young”), Barbra Streisand (“Don’t Rain On My Parade”), The Partridge Family (“Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque”), Elton John (“Bennie and the Jets), Nick Drake (“Northern Sky”), and Outkast (“Hey Ya”). *heads off to make a Spotify playlist*

CL: What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

EC: Wow, I have no idea, but I do suddenly have a memory of being way behind on reading Little Women for a book report in grade school, and my mom and me taking turns reading it out loud together in her bed a few days time.

CL: If you didn’t have your current job, what might you do?

EC: Entirely possible that I’d be unemployed. I sometimes fantasize about owning a very adorably curated shop that stocked all the things that I can never find when I’m looking for them, but it would be a really weird, possibly very sparse shop, and I’d want someone else to run it.

CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no wifi). 

EC: I actually wrote a story about this once called “The Most Everything in the World.” I think I would require a large umbrella at the very least, pen and paper, chocolate chip cookies, and the soundtrack to West Side Story. It’s always all about West Side Story.


Join us for a special event on Tuesday, April 11, 2016 at City Lights. Elizabeth is in conversation with Eden Lepucki and introduced by Matthew Zapruder. For more about Elizabeth, go to her official site, and follow her on Twitter. For more events at City Lights, go to our events calendar.

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