Steve Almond gets novel with ‘All the Secrets of the World’

David Wilson for the Boston Globe

The author of several nonfiction books and story collections, for decades Steve Almond tried to write a novel. To be clear, he wrote plenty, but, he said, “they did not deserve to be published.”

It took a kind of letting go before he was able to write “All the Secrets of the World,” (Zando). “I simply got more interested in the story than my own ego,” said Almond, who teaches at Wesleyan as well as in Harvard’s Nieman Fellowship program. “In surrendering, that relaxation or just letting myself off the hook created a space for me to just start being curious. Curiosity, humility, and patience are the crucial triumvirate if you’re going to write a novel.”

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His novel centers on a teenage girl named Lorena, a Honduran immigrant, but it dips in and out of a dozen other characters, including then-First Lady Nancy Reagan, who would seem ripe for caricature, but whom Almond manages to humanize. “I didn’t want to flatten any of them out. I wanted to understand them all,” he said. “By the end, hopefully, you can’t write any of them off. You have to understand if not forgive all of them.”

In a literary landscape dominated for eons by stories of white men, Almond chose to write from the point of view of a Latina girl. “I wanted to write about somebody who was clearly an imagined character, but who has a lot in common with me, their psychology and their emotion,” said Almond. “Their experiences caused me to have to enlarge my moral imagination and my curiosity and to think more deeply about experiences that are not my own.”

“If we say to writers, ‘You can only write about your own experiences,’ I think we’re kind of cutting off one of the great possibilities of art,” he added. “Having said that, when somebody in my circumstances of great privilege does write about characters who are disenfranchised, they should be held to account if they get it wrong.”

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Steve Almond will read at 7 p.m. Monday at Porter Square Books: Boston Edition.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.

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