Union Notables

Andrea Barrett    class of 1974


Andrea Barrett
Andrea Barrett photograph by Barry Goldstein

Born in Boston on November 16, 1954, Andrea Barrett grew up on Cape Cod and came to Union College to major in Biology. Studying extensively with Professors Carl George and Peter Tobiessen, she earned a B.S. in Biology in 1974. Thus, she did not start her acclaimed writing career with a focus on literature; instead, with her background in biology, and interests in zoology and history, she translated a love of the natural world and the past into the world of fiction.

Barrett has published six novels, including Lucid Stars (1988), Secret Harmonies (1989), The Middle Kingdom (1991), Forms of Water (1993), The Voyage of the Narwhal (1998), and The Air We Breathe: A Novel (2007). She has co-edited two anthologies on writing and has published two collections of short stories: Ship Fever (1996) which won the National Book Award in 1996, and Servants of the Map (2002) which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 2003.

In her writing, Barrett brings together her passions for science, history, and literature, exploring the work and lives of scientists, and compellingly merging the seemingly separate disciplines of literature and science. Her books and characters are living things, subject to the same natural laws as the scientific world they describe. Putting the natural world into literature, Barrett has dramatized to countless readers the often overlooked similarities between science and art.

Barrett’s many prestigious awards attest to her ability to enliven literary and scientific culture. In addition to receiving the 1996 National Book Award, and to being a finalist for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, her book prizes include two O. Henry Awards; three awards for Best American Short Story; and a Pushcart Prize. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship (1997), a MacArthur Fellowship (2001), an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2003), and a Fellowship from the Center for Writers and Scholars from the New York Public Library (2003). In 1996, she received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Union College; in 1997 she delivered an address as Union College’s distinguished Minerva Speaker; and in 2006, she was featured in Union’s Homecoming Alumni Writers Series.

Cover of Ship Fever
Cover of Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett courtesy Schaffer Library, Union College

She has taught at numerous institutions, including Williams College, Warren Wilson College, the New York State Summer Writer’s Institute at Skidmore College, and at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference at Middlebury College.

Andrea Barrett’s previous and ongoing work show her commitment to illustrating the exciting links between literature and science; and her readers continue to appreciate her passionate commitment to the rigor of science and the art of fiction.