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Monica Byrne

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Monica Byrne

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Full Name: Monica Byrne
Occupation: Writer, Playwright, Traveler


I'm a writer, playwright, and traveler based in Durham, NC.

When I was fourteen years old I decided I wanted to be an astrobiologist. That's someone who studies [the possibility of] life elsewhere in the universe. It's a funny discipline, because it's not actually a discipline at all--they have no data, as yet--so it's more like a profession of faith.

But being an astrobiologist was a means to an end, which was, to be an astronaut and be the first human to walk on Mars. (Not the first woman. The first human.) That meant I majored in biochemistry at Wellesley, worked with the Martian astromaterials team at Johnson Space Center, attended the NASA Astrobiology Academy, got my pilot's license, and went to MIT for a doctorate in geochemistry that, I imagined, would come in handy when I was camped out on Olympus Mons.

But I had a profound conversion experience in graduate school. I realized that much of why I wanted to be an astronaut was a fatalistic impulse, borne of the sadness of losing my mother at a young age. At the same time, I was falling back in love with art, writing, theater, and improv--all the things that gave me pleasure, but that I'd never allowed myself to pursue. I left graduate school and restructured my life to become an artist.

Thank God. I would have made a terrible astronaut.

I first had the idea for The Girl in the Road in January 2007. I was on a flight from Durham to New York, reading an issue of Tricycle, the Buddhist magazine. I'd been meditating as a way of healing from a severe bout of depression after a breakup. I was just beginning to want things again, including going to New York to see my sisters Mary and Clare perform in a collaboration.

In the magazine, there was a poem where the words "bridge" and "ocean" appeared right on top of each other. I thought, "What if there was a pedestrian bridge that spanned the entire ocean?" And immediately I knew I had a huge, rich, novel-sized idea.

The eerie thing is, I've gone back and looked through all my issues of Tricycle for that poem, and I can't find it.

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