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Meet the WritersImage of Sarah Vowell
Sarah Vowell
Sarah Vowell has turned her gimlet eye -- and razor-sharp tongue -- toward everything from her father's homemade (and life-size) cannon and her obsession with the Godfather films, to the New Hampshire primary and her Cherokee ancestors' forced march on the Trail of Tears. Vowell is best known for her monologues and documentaries for public radio's This American Life. A contributing editor for the program since 1996, she has been a staple of TAL's popular live shows around the country, for which The New York Times has commended her "funny querulous voice and shrewd comic delivery." Thanks to her first book, Radio On: A Listener's Diary, Newsweek named her its "Rookie of the Year" for nonfiction in 1997, calling her "a cranky stylist with talent to burn." Reviewing her second book, the essay collection Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World, People magazine said, "Wise, witty and refreshingly warm-hearted, Vowell's essays on American history, pop culture and her own family reveal the bonds holding together a great, if occasionally weird, nation." Her third book, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, was a national bestseller and was recently released on audio CD, featuring the voices of Norman Lear, Paul Begala, and Conan O'Brien. Sarah Vowell's forthcoming book, titled Assassination Vacation and due to be published Spring 2005, is about tourism and presidential murder.

As a critic and reporter, Sarah Vowell has contributed to numerous newspapers and magazines, including Esquire, GQ, Artforum, The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Spin, and McSweeney's. As a columnist, she has covered education for Time, American culture for the online magazine, and pop music for San Francisco Weekly, for which she won a 1996 Music Journalism Award. She contributed the liner notes to the CD anthology Dial-A-Song: 20 Years of They Might Be Giants. Sarah Vowell is a fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU. Vowell was recently cast as the voice of the teenage daughter in The Incredibles director Brad Bird's forthcoming film about a family of superheroes from Pixar Animation Studios.

Sarah Vowell has performed her work at the Aspen Comedy Festival, Amsterdam's Crossing Borders Festival, and Seattle's Foolproof Festival. She has appeared on Late Show with David Letterman, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Nightline, and is a regular on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

Author biography courtesy of the Steven Barclay Agency.

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In the fall of 2003, Sarah Vowell took some time out to talk to us about some of her favorite books.

What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?
At the risk of sounding like I'm running for office, the Bible. I learned to read by reading Bible stories. Raised as Pentecostal, I was told to read it every day. Even though fundamentalist cultures are seen as anti-intellectual for obvious reasons, it's a pretty studious culture in some ways. There was a lot of verse memorization. And with three church services a week, all we did was analyze poetry. Of course, I came to realize there were other books. But that one sure sticks -- the vivid language, the allegories and parables, the names and rhythms. It's very musical writing. Between that writing and the spoken form of sermons, sound and rhythm are important to me as a writer. When I'm writing a speech, I read my sentences aloud to make sure they make sense to my ears.

What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, for the last page. That last page with "the fresh green breast of the New World," is the best writing there is on this country‘s potential.

  • Abraham Lincoln: Selected Speeches and Writings. Some of the letters, especially those tender notes to Joshua Speed. But I'm in it for the Gettysburg Address and, especially, the Second Inaugural, his (and our) greatest speech. It's sarcastic, heartbroken, unflinching, idealistic, realistic, moral, inspirational, and not too long.

  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Koningsburg. I loved this book as a kid, and now I can see why, because it's about how parents just don't understand and the joy of research. A little girl and her brother run away from home to New York City. They secretly live in the Met, then they track down the provenance of a Michelangelo sculpture.

  • Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? I think of this book as Gatsby's little brother.

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  • About the Writer
    *Sarah Vowell Home
    * Biography
    * Interview
    *Radio On: A Listener's Diary, 1996
    *Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World, 2000
    *The Partly Cloudy Patriot, 2002
    *Assassination Vacation, 2005
    Photo Bennett Miller