Andrea Barrett

Andrea Barrett

Past Event: Tuesday, March 11, 2003

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

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Sponsored by Gull Industries.

Andrea Barrett did not start out to be a fiction writer; she wanted to be a scientist. “I really wanted to be Darwin in a skirt wandering through the Galapagos or the Amazon naming birds and trees,” she says.

Instead, Barrett has translated her fascination with science and the natural world into award-winning novels and short stories, including Ship Fever (1996), winner of the National Book Award for Fiction. Barrett is especially drawn to the history of exploration and the suffering men and women were willing to endure in the pursuit of knowledge. The Voyage of the Narwhal (1998) tells of a harrowing expedition to the Arctic, while in the title story from Ship Fever, a doctor struggles through a typhus epidemic.

Born in 1954, Andrea Barrett grew up on Cape Cod and received her B.S. in Biology from Union College. She is the author seven works of fiction, including, most recently, Servants of the Map (2002). Her awards include fellowships from MacArthur Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in Rochester, New York.

Excerpt from The Voyage of the Narwhal (1998)
Here was the arctic, Erasmus thought, as the Narwhal moved through Davis Strait and the night began to disappear. Or at least its true beginning: here, here, here.

His eyes burned from trying to take in everything at once. Whales with their baleen-laden mouths broke the water, sometimes as many as forty a day. Belugas slipped by white and radiant and the sky was alive with birds. The men cheered the first narwhals as guardian spirits and crowded around Erasmus as he sketched. With one of Dr. Boerhaave’s excellent pencils he tried to capture the grooved spike jutting from the males’ upper jaws and the smooth dark curves of their backs. Nils Jensen, out on the bowsprit, watched intently as each surfaced to breathe and called back measurements—ten feet long, twelve and half—which Erasmus noted on his drawings.

One day the coast of Greenland appeared, the peak of Sukkertoppen rising above the fog and flickering past as they sailed to Disko Island. A flock of dovekies sailed through the rigging, and when Robert Carey knocked one to the deck Erasmus remembered how, as a little boy, he’d glimpsed three of these tiny birds in a creek near his home, bobbing exhausted where they’d been driven after a great northeaster. This one looked like a black-and-white quail in his hand. Bending over the rail to release it, he saw fronds of seaweed waving through ten fathoms of transparent water. As soon as they anchored at Godhavn he and Dr. Boerhaave sampled the shallows, finding nullipores, mussels, and small crustaceans. Then they saw people, floating on the water and looking back at them.

In tiny, skin-covered kayaks the strangers darted among the icebergs; their legs were hidden inside the boats, their arms extended by two-bladed paddles. Flash, flash: into the ocean and out again, water streaming silver from the blades. The paddles led to tight hooded jackets; the jackets merged into oval skirts connecting the men at their waists to the boats—like centaurs, Erasmus thought. Boat men, male boats. It was all a blur, he couldn’t see their faces.

Selected Work
The Voyage of the Narwhal (1998)
Ship Fever (1996)
The Forms of Water (1993)
The Middle Kingdom (1991)
Lucid Stars (1989)

The Atlantic: Interview with Barrett
The Voyage of the Narwhal book review

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Bus
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by bus and light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.


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