Ramona Ausubel is the bestselling author of “The Last Animal,” which was named a best book of 2023 by many outlets. Her previous books are “Awayland: Stories,” “Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, A Guide to Being Born” and “No One is Here Except All of Us.” She is the recipient of the PEN/USA Fiction Award, the Cabell First Novelist Award and has been a finalist for both the California and Colorado Book Awards and the New York Public Library Young Lions Award. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review daily, One Story, Tin House, The Oxford American, Ploughshares and elsewhere. She is a professor at Colorado State University and lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her family.

Her book “The Last Animal” was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award for Novels.


SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?

Ramona Ausubel: When my daughter was a few weeks old, she was lying on my chest and I thought about how crazy it was that I had this brand-new creature, tiny and delicate. She fell asleep, and I opened my laptop to do some work and a news story popped up about scientists working to de-extinct various creatures, including the woolly mammoth and I was hit with this rush of feelings and questions.

Hubris! Unintended consequences! Why can’t we humans ever just take care of what we have, rather than reaching for the sexiest, most expensive and complicated idea? But also, here is a group of people who want to make and care for an animal, just like I was doing with my new baby. There was tenderness in the project, along with everything else.

SunLit: Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?

Ausubel: This is the very beginning of the novel and I think it make a good introduction for the characters and setting.

SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you sat down to write?

Ausubel: I read a lot about CRISPR, which is the gene editing process scientists will use to bring back extinct creatures (or to be more precise, they will use this to make a new creature with a very similar genetic code to the extinct animal). But “The Last Animal” is not science fiction and is really about a family in the throes of grief and transformation, so I did a lot of thinking in that realm, too. It’s about growing up, about climate change, motherhood, care, and loss. It’s about how we take care of one another.

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SunLit: What did the process of writing this book add to your knowledge and understanding of your craft and/or the subject matter?

Ausubel: I started “The Last Animal” not long before the start of the pandemic and when the world shut down, the world of the book became a much bigger part of my personal landscape than I ever could have imagined. I escaped there when I wasn’t teaching Zoom school at Colorado State University or caring for my kids.

A big question of the book is whether we can stay in love with the world, even if it might break our hearts a lot of the time. The pandemic was a pretty powerful living laboratory of that, for me.

SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing this book?

Ausubel: Every book is a new universe and no matter how much experience I have, the fact that it’s always new is both the hard part and the pleasure. The challenge this time was partly to balance the emotional worlds of the characters with the backdrop of de-extinction.

Readers needed to understand that project without giant info dumps, and always, always the lives of the characters and their relationships needed to be centered.

SunLit: What’s the most important thing — a theme, lesson, emotion or realization — that readers should take from this book?

Ausubel: There is so much magic in this world. So much possibility. So much loss. It’s all of it, all the time, and one piece does not cancel out the rest.

SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?

Ausubel: Because I have a full-time teaching job and a family, I have to be flexible and adaptable. This spring I have been working on a new novel and trying to write most days, for about 90 minutes at a time so that I make noticeable progress and stay connected to the project.

But it changes depending on the demands in my life and what I’m working on. I write on the couch, at the kitchen table, at cafes — wherever I can! Some days I only have 15 minutes to write, but if I keep typing, even that can be enough. And there were weeks when big stuff came up and I didn’t write at all, and it’s so important to say, “oh, well!” and dive back in without guilt or shame. Life is full, which is why I have stories to write. It’s important for me to reframe the proposition so that life and writing are not in competition with one another.

“The Last Animal”

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SunLit: Tell us about your next project.

Ausubel: I’m working on a new novel, and it’s too early to say a lot but I can tell you that it’s about shapeshifting, open water ocean swimming, wildfires and the people we turn into when circumstances push us out of the known world.

A few more quick questions

SunLit: Which do you enjoy more as you work on a book – writing or editing?

Ausubel: Editing! Once I have the material, I love the long process of building and shaping. It’s just as creative as the drafting process, at least!

SunLit: What’s the first piece of writing – at any age – that you remember being proud of?

Ausubel: I was a super super shy kid and I didn’t feel very confident, but in the 6th grade we studied poetry and I felt like I had discovered something miraculous. I had things to say! And people actually got it!

SunLit: What three writers, from any era, would you invite over for a great discussion about literature and writing?

Ausubel: This is too hard! Everyone? Shakespeare, James Baldwin and Louise Erdrich? This would change on any given day!

SunLit: Do you have a favorite quote about writing?

Ausubel: “Follow your weird.” – Jim Shepard

SunLit: What does the current collection of books on your home shelves tell visitors about you?

Ausubel: That I depend on all sorts of voices to help me see the world!

SunLit: Soundtrack or silence? What’s the audio background that helps you write?

Ausubel: I like the ambient noise of a café, and I like music but I hate choosing music. Colorado local Gregory Alan Isakov is a favorite for writing company, though.

SunLit: What music do you listen to for sheer enjoyment?

Ausubel: I am not the DJ in our house — my husband and 9-year-old daughter are the music choosers most of the time and I’m happy to listen to what they love.

SunLit: What event, and at what age, convinced you that you wanted to be a writer?

Ausubel: Since that poem in 6th grade I have known that writing would be a big part of my life. In high school and college I became more and more serious, and though I had no idea if or how I’d make writing part of my career, I knew it would be part of my life.

I remember doing the final reading for a poetry class in a local café in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I grew up, and looking out at the audience and feeling a connection to them and to myself. That’s magic.

SunLit: Greatest writing fear?

Ausubel: Slowly or accidentally stopping. Letting other responsibilities crowd out the part of me that knows how to create something from nothing.

SunLit: Greatest writing satisfaction?

Ausubel: The way a writing practice keeps me awake to this miraculous, strange world. If I’m writing, I’m more alive.

Type of Story: Q&A

An interview to provide a relevant perspective, edited for clarity and not fully fact-checked.

This byline is used for articles and guides written collaboratively by Hablame24 reporters, editors and producers.