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Helen Phillips: Author Talk, The Need

July 1, 2020 @ 7:30 pm

When writing her novel The Need—which would go on to become a National Book Award nominee and a New York Times Notable Book of 2019—Helen Phillips knew that her protagonist Molly was a scientist who worked at an excavation site where strange artifacts had begun to emerge from the earth. But she couldn’t quite figure out how to evoke Molly’s professional life and make the different strands of the narrative fit together until, almost by chance, she started talking with paleobotanist Dr. Sarah E. Allen. Their initial two-hour phone conversation about paleobotany (the study of plant fossils) provided critical insights that transformed the concept of the book, and these insights were refined and deepened in subsequent conversations over the course of more than a year.

On the eve of the publication of the paperback edition of The Need, Helen and Sarah will discuss the ways that paleobotany shaped her book; paleobotanical mysteries; alternate realities in fossils, and in fiction; creativity and research in both of their fields; and the power of interdisciplinary conversation.