Bestselling novelist and travel writer
Photo credit: Courtesy of the author
About Maggie Shipstead
Maggie Shipstead is a rising star in literary fiction—winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction, and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Within a few years of earning her M.F.A., she published her first novel, Seating Arrangements, an irresistible satirical story of a summer wedding weekend told from the point of view of the father of the bride as he grapples with middle age, which went on to become a national bestseller. Her second novel, Astonish Me, is a Cold War drama set in the world of ballet.
Shipstead took six years to write Great Circle, an 600-page epic time-spanning novel that takes place both in 1914 and the modern-day. Readers follow a daring Jazz Age aviatrix Mariam Graves pursuing her dream of circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles and a young twenty-first-century movie star portraying Mariam Graves and her disappearance in Antarctica. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2021, Great Circle is a New York Times bestseller, and a Today Show #ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick.
Also an accomplished travel journalist, Shipstead has traveled to many different countries from Botswana to Patagonia. She has written for New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure, Departures, Condé Nast Traveler, Outside, The Best American Short Stories, and The Best American Sports Writing.
She attended Harvard University and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She currently resides in Los Angeles.
Writing Great Circle
In this lecture, Maggie Shipstead recounts the six years of research, writing, and editing that went into creating an epic, almost thousand-page-long manuscript and then wrangling that into a merely six-hundred page book. This is a story of both outward and inward journeys as she ventured around the world in service to her novel, grappling with questions of craft and character while pushing her stamina to the limit.
Maggie Shipstead talks about her experiences writing on assignment for travel magazines, venturing to destinations as varied as Antarctica, Botswana, the Indian Himalaya, Greenland, Patagonia, and more. What makes a good travel story? What is the process by which a story is assigned, research, written, edited, and photographed? What is the difference between traveling for fun and traveling as a journalist? How does writing fiction intersect with and diverge from her magazine work? Shipstead shares amazing anecdotes from her travels--from getting the bends in the Maldives to flushing lions out of the bush while on horseback in Africa to swimming with humpback whales in Tonga.
Praise for Maggie Shipstead
Maggie was a generous and compelling speaker and the talk was very well received. The personal travel images were wonderful and added immeasurably to the presentation. We loved every minute we spent with her.— The Literary Society of the Desert
Praise for Great Circle
Thrilling... Great Circle starts high and maintains altitude. One might say it soars. An action-packed book rich with character... Great Circle grasps for and ultimately reaches something extraordinary. It pulls off this feat through individual sentences and sensations—by getting each secondary and tertiary character right . . . What’s so impressive is how deeply we come to care about each of these people, and how the shape and texture of each of their stories collide to build a story all its own. It’s at the level of the sentence and the scene, the small but unforgettable salient detail, that books finally succeed or fail. In that, Great Circle is consistently, often breathtakingly, sound.— Lynn Steger Strong, The New York Times Book Review
A masterpiece … One of the best books I’ve ever read.— J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Friends and Strangers
A soaring work of historical fiction . . . So convincingly does Shipstead stitch her fictional heroine into the daring flight paths of early aviators that you’ll be convinced that you remember the tragic day her plane disappeared. Great Circle is a relentlessly exciting story about a woman maneuvering her way between tradition and prejudice to get what she wants. It’s also a culturally rich story that takes full advantage of its extended length to explore the changing landscape of the 20th century. My top recommendation for this summer.— Ron Charles, The Washington Post
Great Circle is an epic trip—through Prohibition and World War II, from Montana to London to present-day Hollywood—and you’ll relish every minute.— People
A feat of a story in every sense.— Entertainment Weekly
Shipstead’s writing soars and dips with dizzying flair . . . With detailed brilliance, she lavishes heart and empathy on every character (save one villain), no matter how small their role. Many authors attempting to create an epic falter at the end, but Shipstead never wavers, pulls out a twist or two that feel fully earned, and then sticks the landing. An expansive story that covers more than a century and seems to encapsulate the whole wide world.— Boston Globe
The Marian portions rove from Montana to Manhattan to Scotland and Antarctica, and read like a carnival of early-20th-century American history, packed with bootleggers, treacherous boxcar rides, and tragic shipwrecks. The Hadley chapters offer a delectable dissection of life as a celebrity, serving up an intelligent skewering of the Hollywood machine and allowing the book to take flight.— Vogue
A breathtaking epic . . . This is a stunning feat.— Publishers Weekly, (Starred review)
A fat, juicy peach of a novel . . . A tremendously well-written book, epic in spirit and scope, swooping across continents and through time so effortlessly that it belies the seven years it apparently took to complete.— The Telegraph [UK]
Accomplished and ambitious . . . Most novelists have their limits and cut their cloth accordingly. Shpstead is a writer who can vividly summon whatever she chooses, taking the reader deep inside the worlds she creates. Shipstead moves us round the globe with ease; she also takes us smoothly through history . . . Her writing is confident and knowing; her descriptions of light and air sometimes beautiful. Marian Graves is a character so real that I twice googled her to check.— Financial Times [UK]
The destinies of [Shipstead’s] unforgettable characters intersect in ways that reverberate through a hundred years of story. Whether Shipstead is creating scenes in the Prohibition-era American West, in wartime London, or on a Hollywood movie set, her research is as invisible as it should be, allowing a fully immersive experience. Ingeniously structured and so damn entertaining; this novel is as ambitious as its heroines—but it never falls from the sky.— Kirkus Reviews, (starred review)
Highly recommended—intricately designed, [with a] compelling cast of characters. As Hadley learns some of Marian’s secrets, readers will wonder how much we can truly know anyone.— Library Journal (starred review)
Transcendent . . . A rolling, roiling epic . . . Through the interwoven stories of impetuous flyer Marian Graves and flavor-of-the-month actress Hadley Baxter, Shipstead ponders the motivating forces behind acts of daring defiance, self-fulfillment and self-destruction. An ambitious, soaring saga—[Shipstead] takes her characters to dizzying heights, drawing readers into lives of courage and mystery.— Booklist
Inherently epic . . .Shipstead sweeps readers from earth to sky and back again . . . Underpinning it all is a reverence for nature, thrumming in the forests of Montana, the jagged peaks of Alaska and the stupefying ice shelves of the Antarctic. Shipstead’s exhilarating, masterful depictions of Marian’s flights feel like shared experiences that invite readers to contemplate both magnitude and majesty. Great Circle is sure to give even firmly earthbound readers a new appreciation for those who are compelled ever skyward.— BookPage
Praise for Astonish Me
So dazzling, so sure-handed and fearless, that at times I had to remind myself to breathe.
— Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette
A novel you must read.— Ron Charles, The Washington Post
I will be paying close attention to Shipstead’s career from here on in.— Jeffrey Eugenides
A breathtaking work of art.— O, The Oprah Magazine
Precise…. Flawless…. Transcendent.
— Maureen Corrigan, NPR
A grand arabesque into the world of dance. . . . Thrilling.— Time
Electrifying. . . . Astonish Me shines.—
The inner lives of [Shipstead’s] characters feel as real and immediate as the shifting settings they inhabit: still-gritty mid-1970s Manhattan, shabbily elegant Paris, the sunbaked suburban sprawl of Southern California. . . . Shipstead’s youth may be a talking point, but her talent transcends it. She’s astonishing.— Entertainment Weekly
Seamless and full of small elegances . . . Lovely. . . . Reading Astonish Me, I didn’t need to be astonished. I was happy.— Annalisa Quinn, NPR
“A searing rumination on insecurity, secrecy, and friendship. . . . Shipstead nails the details of being perpetually en pointe” —O, The Oprah Magazine
Maggie Shipstead takes hold of the reader and doesn’t let go. Astonish Me is a haunting, powerful novel.
— Dani Shapiro
Sardonic and insightful. . . . [Shipstead] does caustic humor, simmering hostilities, and social envy well.
— New York Times Book Review
Deeply engrossing . . . [A] thoughtful meditation on the relentless pursuit of perfection and just how far we’re willing to go for love.— BookPage
A bravura display of high-performance art, the only constant its quest for perfection.
— The Guardian (London)
The emotionally nuanced tale of barre-crossed lovers and the majestic, mysterious world of professional dance. A supple, daring, and vivid portrait of desire and betrayal.— Booklist, (starred review)
Shipstead’s insights into human nature take center stage. The story’s surprisingly satisfying outcome encourages us to accept imperfection and even take refuge in doing so.
— Nylon Magazine
Bold and thrilling. . . The way the characters come together in new and surprising pairings is one of the book’s many pleasures.
— Boston Globe
Full of delights. . . . Maggie Shipstead is a writer to watch.— The Washington Times
Impressively sure-footed .— Elle
Sharp and memorable . . . Full of the kind of keen observations about people and relationships that made her first book, Seating Arrangements, one of 2012’s most delightful literary surprises.
— San Diego Union-Tribune
Exhilarating.— Columbus Dispatch
Spans continents, decades, and generations . . . . A total pleasure to read.— The Rumpus
Praise for Seating Arrangements
Beneath the surface of this summery romp lie animosities, well-paced sexual suspense and a clash between appearances and authenticity. . . . Waltzlike.— The New York Times Book Review
The novel I’ve been recommending this summer to anyone, female or male, who’s looking for the trifecta—a good story that’s beautifully written and both hilarious and humane.
— Maureen Corrigan, NPR
This gorgeous, wise, funny, sprawling novel about family, fidelity, and social class, is the best book I’ve read in ages.
— J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine
“Shipstead’s weave of wit and observation continually delights. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday she trades her Lilly Pulitzer for something from Joseph Pulitzer.— Ron Charles, The Washington Post
Seating Arrangements delightfully and poignantly upends the WASP idyll….Sparkles while it slays.— USA Today
Maggie Shipstead is an outrageously gifted writer, and her assured first novel, Seating Arrangements, is by turns hilarious and deeply moving.—
That Old Cape Magic
Shipstead doesn’t just follow in [John Updike and Jane Smiley’s] footsteps; she beats a distinctive and dazzling path of her own. The world has found a remarkable, humane new voice to explain us to ourselves.— Allison Pearson, author of I Don’t Know How She Does It
Whipsmart and engaging.— O, The Oprah Magazine
A wickedly clever tragicomedy of manners that unfolds with the plotting of a juicy mystery and the sharp eye of someone only too aware of the subtle, seemingly pointless class distinctions within the one percent.— Slate
Shipstead seems at home in the Waspy milieu of private schools and their preening, privileged attendees. . . . A keen-eyed rendering of America’s self-invented caste.— The New Yorker
This is one of those rare debut novels that neither forsakes plot for language nor language for plot. It is gratifying on every scale.— The Boston Globe
Precise, skilled, quick-witted, and warm-hearted.— The Millions
Dead-on delightful. . . . A champagne-fueled, saltwater-scented comedy of upper-crust New England manners and mores.— National Geographic Traveler
A wise, sophisticated and funny novel about family, fidelity, class and crisis.— Marie Claire
A pitch-perfect debut from a master storyteller, Seating Arrangements is a rich and deep work: a smart, consuming novel that manages also to be delightfully funny. A romp of a book, with whales and weddings and wealth, it is, at its heart, a warning against the empty seductions of status and exclusivity.— Justin Torres, author of We the Animals
Elegant, delightful. . . . Shipstead’s sentences simmer and crackle on the page.— San Francisco Chronicle
[A] mordant, ferociously clever comedy of manners.— The Guardian (London)
Delightful. . . . Seating Arrangements brims with sharp observations about love, lust, family, and the real meaning of marital bliss.— Entertainment Weekly
[A] spicy debut.— Real Simple
Funny and dark and poignant—sometimes all at once. Shisptead is a gifted storyteller whose richly realized characters and sweetly flowing prose coalesce into a tale that is by parts sweet and sharp, humorous and heartbreaking. It’s an auspicious debut by an undeniably talented writer.— The Maine Edge
Wonderfully juicy, frothy and delightful.— Cape Cod Times
A delicious comedy of manners . . . that has fun with all things rich, all things wedding and all things inappropriate.— Asbury Park Press
Zestful yet acerbic. . . . For all its madcap quirkiness, Shipstead’s adroit escapade artfully delivers a poignant reflection on the enduring if frustrating nature of love, hope, and family.— Booklist
[Shipstead’s] book places a magnifying glass over classic New England upper-crust culture. . . . Whether reading Seating Arrangements is like looking into a mirror or peeking through the window, the gin-soaked escapades are difficult to turn away from.— The Phoenix
Books by Maggie Shipstead
Media About Maggie Shipstead
- 212 572-2013
- Maggie Shipstead travels from Los Angeles, CA