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“It’s hard to make human beings believe in things”: Marie-Helene Bertino on belief, education, and the creative process in ‘Beautyland’

This week on The Write Question, host Lauren Korn speaks with Marie-Helene Bertino, author of Beautyland (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a novel about the fragility and resilience of life on our Earth and in our universe.

At the moment when Voyager 1 is launched into space carrying its famous golden record, a baby of unusual perception is born to a single mother in Philadelphia. As a child, Adina Giorno recognizes that she is different: She possesses knowledge of a faraway planet. The arrival of a fax machine enables her to contact her extraterrestrial relatives, beings who have sent her to report on the oddities of Earthlings.

About Marie:

Marie-Helene Bertino is the author of Beautyland, Parakeet, 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas, and the story collection Safe as Houses. She was the 2017 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Fellow in Cork, Ireland; she has received the O. Henry Prize, the Pushcart Prize, the Iowa Short Fiction Award, the Mississippi Review Prize, and fellowships from MacDowell, Sewanee, and New York City’s Center for Fiction; and her work has twice been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts. She teaches creative writing at New York University and Yale University and lives in Brooklyn.

Marie-Helene Bertino recommends:

Sex with a Brain Injury: On Concussion and Recovery by Annie Liontas (Scribner)

City of Laughter by Temim Fruchter (Grove Press)

Lauren Korn recommends:

Beautyland (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Parakeet (Picador USA) by Marie-Helene Bertino

This conversation between Marie-Helene Bertino and Lara Ehrlich from the 2020 Montana Book Festival

Biography of X by Catherine Lacey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Lost Journals of Sacajewea by Debra Magpie Earling (Milkweed Editions)

Poor Deer by Claire Oshetsky (Ecco Press)

Martyr! by Kaveh Akbar (Alfred A. Knopf)

North Woods by Daniel Mason (Penguin Random House)

Open Throat by Henry Hoke (MCD; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Write Question team for this episode was Lauren Korn, host, co-producer, editor, and sound engineer; and Chris Moyles, co-producer and editor. This episode is supported by Montana Book Co., located in downtown Helena, Montana, since 1978, offering new books for all ages, vinyl records, and community activism. For delivery in Helena and shipping online, visit

The Write Question logo and brand (2022) was designed by Molly Russell. You can see more of her work at and on Instagram @iamthemollruss. Our music was written and recorded by John Floridis.

Funding for The Write Question comes from Humanities Montana; members of Montana Public Radio; and from the Greater Montana Foundation—encouraging communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans.

The Write Question is a production of Montana Public Radio.

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Lauren R. Korn holds an M.A. in poetry from the University of New Brunswick, where she was the recipient of the Tom Riesterer Memorial Prize and the Angela Ludan Levine Memorial Book Prize. A former bookseller and the former Director of the Montana Book Festival, she is now an Arts and Culture Producer at Montana Public Radio and the host of it’s literature-based radio program and podcast, ‘The Write Question.’
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