How do people use their psychic injuries and strengths to fashion their art? What do they take from their experience and what do they not? How do southern ladies leading limited lives like Flannery O’Connor, how do repressed gentlemen like Henry James produce work that transforms other people’s lives and continues to do so for centuries? Why do energetic, outward-facing, political people like Grace Paley ever sit down to write fiction at all?

There is a mystery at the heart of all literary biography. How does the mush of experience get turned into glittering artifact? How does the random become essential?

Phyllis Rose, “Examined Lives”