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How to Breathe Underwater: 2011-12 Common Read   Tags: common_read agnes_reads  

Last Updated: Feb 20, 2012 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Julie Orringer

Orringer's Website

Julie Orringer was born in Florida, but grew up in New Orleans, LA and Ann Arbor, MI. She is the oldest of three siblings and both of her parents were doctors. When she attended college she thought she would be a doctor too, but then she took a class at Cornell University that helped her recognize her talent as a writer.

While participating in the Iowa Writers' Workshop she honed and perfected many of the stories in How to Breathe Underwater.

Julie Orringer currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and is a member of the Faculty in the Creative Writing Program at New York University.  She recently published her first novel, The Invisible Bridge

Her husband, Ryan Harty, is also a writer and teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Columbia University.  In November 2010, they had their first child.

Articles About the Author


Orringers Favorite Authors

Listed below are authors Orringer mentions as favorites or influential on her writing style.  The names that are hyperlinked identify works available in the McCain Library collection.

Links to Stories

Several of the stories in How to Breathe Underwater were previously published in literary magazines.  Listed below are some of the stories available on the web and in literary magazines.  Unfortunately, only the first two are freely available without the ASC username and password or the GALILEO password.  Incoming students should contact Casey Long at for assistance in gaining access to these stories. 


Is Her Work Autobiographical?

Reading through How to Breathe Underwater it is hard not to wonder how much do the stories relate to Julie Orringer's own past experience.  She addresses this in an interview with the Penguin Readers Group:

"Of course, there are a lot of autobiographical elements in the stories; but everything changes in the process of making fiction.  Lorrie Moore says that the proper relationship of a writer to his or her own life is similar to a cook with a cupboard.  What the cook makes from the cupboard is not the same as what's in the cupboard."

The story readers may wonder most about is Notes to My Sixth-Grade Self.  Though Orringer emphasizes that the story is not autobiographical, she admits to taking a social dance class in middle school and feeling like a social outcast at times.  According to the Stanford Report, which is a student paper at Stanford University, Orringer talked about her sixth grade dance experience during a panel presentation at Stanford in 2006:

"Orringer said she took ballroom dancing in the sixth grade and described herself as a nerd who didn't dress well and suffered from a condition that required her to wear an eye patch. But as awkward as she felt, one classmate danced with her anyway—and she never forgot that."

More insights on her perceptions of her sixth grade are in this interview at St. Francis College, which was posted on YouTube in November 2010. The beginning of this interview focuses on her latest novel, The Invisible Bridge, but halfway into the interview she reveals more personal details and discusses her writing process.


Impact of Flannery O'Conner on Orringer's Writing Process


How Does She Teach Young Writers

In addition to being a published author, Julie Orringer shares her talents through teaching.  In an interview with Ilana Simmons of Barnes & Noble she states the following about how she teaches new writers:

"First I require that my students promise to spend three hours a day producing new work. Then I make them read a lot of published stories and novels that I love. I encourage them to write their own stories from beginning to end at a good clip, without too much self-judgment; then I teach them how to revise carefully, and how to become good readers of their own work and each other’s. That’s the way-oversimplified version. The fact is, everyone’s got to have space and time to do their own thing; it also helps to have a teacher you respect to point out the difference between what’s good and what’s not. Of course, since everyone’s opinion on that distinction varies, it’s good to have a series of teachers with widely varying tastes. And peers whose opinions you respect."

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Other Works by Julie Orringer

Available in the McCain Library Browsing Collection.

Julie Orringer reads a chapter from The Invisible Bridge (runtime 47 min) - St Francis College.

Julie Orringer reads her short story "Flores" (runtime 34:48) - KQED Public Media, Northern California.

"Ask for Pain; On the Eve of a Wedding, Her Choice was Revenge or Redemption." A story bu Julie Orringer published in The Washington Post  10  Feb. 2008.


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