Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles but raised in Nashville, Tennessee. While at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, she studied with such notable authors as Russell Banks and Grace Paley before getting her first short works published. She labored long and hard in the trenches of Seventeen magazine (where her talents went largely unrecognized), before striking gold with her ambitious first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars, which was named a New York Times Notable Book of 1992 and subsequently made into a major motion picture.
Since her auspicious debut, Patchett has crafted a handful of elegant novels, garnering several accolades and awards along the way. But her real breakthrough occurred with 2001's Bel Canto, a taut, psychological thriller set in the claustrophobic confines of an embassy under siege in South America. Winning both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize, Bel Canto catapulted Patchett into the ranks of bestselling authors.
As if to prove her versatility, Patchett departed from fiction for 2004's Truth & Beauty, the heartbreaking account of her longstanding, difficult friendship with the late Lucy Grealy, a gifted writer whose disfigurement from cancer precipitated a tragic descent into addiction and death. This memoir won several literary awards and appeared on many end-of-year best books lists.
Success breeds success; and with each book, Patchett's reputation grows. Perhaps the secret to her popularity has been captured best by Patchett's friend, Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler. "She is a genius of the human condition," he says. "I can't think of many other writers, ever, who get anywhere near her ability to comprehend the vastness and diversity of humanity, and to articulate our deepest heart."
Good to Know
Back to Top
In 1997, The Patron Saint of Liars was adapted into a TV movie, and Patchett also helped to write the screenplay for Taft, which was optioned by actor Morgan Freeman for a feature film.
Patchett knew absolutely nothing about opera before writing Bel Canto; she began her research with Fred Plotkin's book Opera 101.
In our interview, Patchett shared some fascinating facts about herself:
"I've never had a television."
"I brush my dog's teeth every morning."
"I got a pig for my ninth birthday and haven't eaten red meat since."
Back to Top
In the summer of 2004, Ann Patchett took some time to answer some of our questions about her favorite books, interests, and inspirations:
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?
Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow. I think I read it in the tenth grade. My mother was reading it. It was the first truly adult literary novel I had read outside of school, and I read it probably half a dozen times. I found Bellow's directness very moving. The book seemed so intelligent and unpretentious. I wanted to write like that book.
What are your ten favorite books?
(In no order and the list will be different tomorrow)
The Human Stain by Philip Roth
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
The Rabbit Angstrom novels (all of them) by John Updike
Random Family by Andrian Nocole LeBlanc
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
The Good Solider by Ford Madox Ford
Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?All Terrence Malick films: Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Thin Red Line. They are both the most moving and the most beautiful films I know.
Most Francis Ford Coppola films -- I love the Godfather movies (even the third one) and Apocalypse Now.
Any movies with Cary Grant or Ingrid Bergman and especially movies with both of them together, Charade or Notorious.
I think My Man Godfrey is the film I've seen the most. It is such a brilliant film. I could go on about movies all day.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I don't listen to music when I write, and when I'm not writing I'm usually listening to opera.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I like to get art books. I've been working on putting a visual library together since I was in high school. My boyfriend just bought me a huge book on Balthus that I adore. I also have a Francis Bacon book that my mother bought for me that is very important to me. When I buy people books, I usually give them a novel that I want them to read so we can talk about it. I also love to give books of photography. I especially like Melissa Anne Pinney's Regarding Emma.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I usually just have a lot of unanswered mail on my desk, things I'm supposed to read for other people. I really don't have any rituals.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
Actually, I kind of was an overnight success. I sold my first story to the Paris Review when I was in college, and I was publishing pretty steadily by my early 20s. My first novel sold to Houghton Mifflin 24 hours after it had been sent out.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Write because you love the art and the discipline, not because you're looking to sell something. I think people become consumed with selling a book when they need to be consumed with writing it.
Back to Top