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    First Person

    Elin Hilderbrand on her latest Nantucket novel

    Actual events from the island inspired the author, known as the “queen of the summer novel,” when writing Summerland.

    Elin Hilderbrand has been living on Nantucket since 1994.
    Rob Benchley
    Elin Hilderbrand has been living on Nantucket since 1994.

    For graduate school I ended up going to the University of Iowa, which is, of course, the best graduate writing program in the country. I was extremely miserable there — Iowa is extremely competitive — but I learned a lot about writing. I am a summer person. Iowa City is OK as Midwestern cities go, but there’s no food, no culture, no ocean. I WANTED TO CONNECT WITH NANTUCKET while not being there, so I started writing about it, to feel closer to my adopted home. At that point, there wasn’t a Nantucket novelist. I thought I could be a chronicler of Nantucket in the summertime.

    The newest book is somewhat based on actual events. There was A STRING OF SUICIDES on Nantucket a few years ago. That got me thinking about the events that drive this novel — how a tragedy can make a tightknit community come together. I didn’t want to write about suicide, since I felt that had been done before; it was also too close to home.

    THE CULTURE OF SUMMERTIME is celebrated on this island, and I like that. I think anybody — especially people who have been to Nantucket, but really anybody who has a special place that they go, or went to growing up, in the summer — really loves my books because they capture the idea that summertime is a season that’s special. It has SPECIAL RITUALS AND SPECIAL THINGS WE DO, and they’re things that still make us happy.


    Nantucket is, I think, one of THE LAST REMAINING AUTHENTIC PLACES IN AMERICA. It’s quaint and gorgeous and New England-y like nowhere else. It’s the ultimate. And the people here are hearty and seafaring and independent and creative and crazy. And I enjoy that.

    — As told to Rachel Deahl. Interview has been edited and condensed.