After the biggest store closed in her neighborhood, Ann decided to get into business even though she has limited experience in the field of investment. Much to her delight, the townsfolk seems to share the same sentiment. Her bookstore is unlike other bookstores though. It occupies little space to encourage interaction among readers and storekeepers. Ann and her business partner also employed bibliophiles. Those who are interested in reading can walk into their store and ask anyone available for recommendations. Needless to say, the strategy worked and their bookstore is yet to close.
Ann’s Early Life
Jeanne Ray, Ann’s mother, is a nurse turned novelist. Their story, however, is not the conventional daughter-taking-after-her-mother thing. On the contrary, it was Ann who encouraged her mother to try out writing when she is already a successful novelist in her own right. But we couldn’t discount the fact that she got her novelist chromosome from her mother who is a terrific storyteller herself.
Ann was born on 2 December 1963 in Los Angeles, California. She then spent most of her life in Tennessee where she was raised. Jeanne and Ann’s father later on parted ways. Soon after, her mother met a doctor who eventually became Ann’s step-father. When she was in the tenth grade, Ann got a hold of “Humboldt's Gift” by Saul Bellow. The book piqued Ann’s interest and she ended up reading and rereading it at least a dozen more times. Ann was so taken by the way the writer directly tells the story and she told herself that it’s what she wanted to do for life—tell a story.
St. Bernard Academy, a Catholic school for girls, was her high school alma mater. Having nuns for teachers would have a lasting effect on how Ann views life in general. Despite the religious kind of upbringing the nuns surrounding her gave, Ann still confesses of struggling with her faith. She admits though that their influence was so profound that it awakened the artist in her. Praying to statues and mulling over “miracles” gave Ann something to conjure stories about. In fact, one of the people she considers as a mentor is a nun named Sister Nena.
It’s interesting to note that even though Ann’s parents both work in the medical field, their daughter had no inclination to join the bandwagon. She never strayed from her dream of becoming a writer. As someone who comes from a middle-class family, her parents could have afforded to send her to any school she wanted and get a degree in the field of medicine. Luckily, Jeanne and her husband did not even bother to talk her out of wanting to become a professional writer.
Studying to be a Writer
Upon completing her high school studies, Ann joined Sarah Lawrence College where she studied under the tutelage of Allan Gurganus, Russell Banks, and Grace Paley. Among her mentors, however, she says that Allan and Grace were the top two people who shaped her life and skill as a writer. She even goes as far as saying that she changed herself in order to please them.
Allan taught Ann to work as a writer. As Allan’s students, they were tasked to write one story every week to prepare them for the job. Always the obedient student, Ann welcomed the challenge rationalizing that had she chosen to become a cello player, she would have to practice just as much. What Grace taught her was a lot more difficult for Ann to learn. While Allan honed her writing skills, Grace became Ann’s “conscience.” Ann explains:
"Grace's lesson was the lesson of having a single voice and being one person, so you're the same person as a mother, a friend, a teacher, a writer, an activist, a citizen... That was an enormous lesson that I had a very, very hard time learning. I feel like I'm playing my part in the community and I like that. When the Literacy Foundation needs somebody to come and be the spokesperson for something, I'm the person they call. I have such a connection to the place and I feel like what I'm doing is important." (Source: The Guardian)
It was in Sarah Lawrence College where Ann had her first article published in The Paris Review.
Ann Patchett before Her Successful Novels
Ann’s journey to becoming a celebrated author did not come easy. She had to learn the ropes and started out as a freelance writer for Seventeen, a teenage magazine. The experience of working for Seventeen was not the least enjoyable for Ann but she credits the publishing company for being a good training ground. According to Ann, writing for Seventeen made her less sentimental towards her work. Out of the five articles she submits, for example, only one of them would get published.
Seventeen also trained her to become less flowery. Often, she is given only a certain number of words to convey her ideas as succinctly as possible. For nine years, Ann endured countless requests for revisions until she got into a yelling match with an editor she did not really like. When she resigned her Seventeen writing career, Ann began contributing for Bridal Guide, which she considers a lot “bigger.”
Ann’s First Book and Lucy Grealy
Years after completing her undergraduate studies, she attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa and won a fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Through these, Ann had the opportunity to meet other writers who later on became her friends.
In 1992, Ann debuted her first novel titled “The Patron Saint of Liars.” In that same year, The Patron Saint of Liars was named a New York Times Notable Book—not bad for an almost anonymous writer. Her background as a freelance writer gave Ann an edge over her contemporaries. The following year, Ann received a Bunting Fellowship from the Mary Ingrahm Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College.
Joining more functions led Ann to Lucy Grealy who became her dear friend. Her relationship with Lucy was very special in that they hit it off despite having nothing in common with each other except for both of them being writers. Ann grew very fond of Lucy and loved her like a sister. What endeared Lucy to Ann was her love for life. For the longest time, Lucy had been battling against jaw cancer. She has had surgery to keep the cancer from spreading resulting in her disfigurement. In spite of her physical issues, Lucy was the life of every party she attended. Sadly, Ann lost her best friend to heroin overdose.
More Books by Ann Patchett
Ann released her second novel “Taft” in 1994, two years after the publication of The Patron Saint of Liars. Her second novel was critically successful and won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize in fiction albeit very low sales. By this time, Ann has been creating a buzz in the field of writing. Among her novels, she considers Taft closest to her heart because not so many people read it despite earning an award.
“The Magician’s Assistant,” her third novel, came three years after Taft. Ann is not the type who writes for money. One of the advice she likes to give aspiring writers is to NEVER write for income. For her, a writer will only become successful if the author genuinely loves to write. If one is writing to become famous or to get rich, it will be difficult to get the job done. Looking at Ann’s works, it’s obvious that she lives by this belief. It takes years for her to publish a book.
In 1998, The Patron Saint of Liars was made into a movie.
Bel Canto Lodges Ann to Success
Ann’s defining novel as a celebrated author of this generation came when Bel Canto was published in 2001. No matter how successful the book was, Ann credits the 9/11 bombing as the one that greatly influenced the novel’s sales.
Before you see Ann as someone who basks on her country’s misfortune, we’d like to emphasize that the release of the book was made during the first quarter of the year. When the Twin Tower was bombed by terrorists, Ann theorized that people came looking for readings about terrorism in order to heal from the trauma. The plot of Bel Canto is about terrorists who kept some people hostage including an opera singer. The timing was perfect.
The following year, Ann’s fourth novel received the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction aside from becoming a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist. Some writers think she doesn’t deserve the award. But she takes their comments with a grain of salt. Unlike other writers who keep to themselves, Ann has a sunny personality. Her optimism even strikes her as unusual. In trying to rationalize her positive outlook in life, Ann explains that it must be her chemical make-up that enables her to always see the silver-lining behind every adversity. Instead of dwelling on the negatives, Ann would rather focus on things that make her happy:
"I think it's brain chemistry, I'm a positive, cheerful person and I think it is absolutely the luck of the draw. I think the life I have had has come largely from the chemicals in my head. I see my life as good and I think a lot of times if you see your life as good then that's how it turns out." (Source: The Guardian)
Truth & Beauty
Although 2002 was a very successful year for her, Ann went through a difficult time as well after losing her best friend Lucy. Not knowing where to turn, she chose to grieve and pour her emotions onto what became “Truth & Beauty,” a memoir of her friendship with the late “Autobiography of a Face” author. It’s her first foray into non-fiction and she found it really therapeutic. As a matter of fact, it only took her three months to complete the book.
Much to her surprise, the book did not sit well with Lucy’s sisters. Her eldest sister wrote an article calling Ann a thief-grief, accusing her of capitalizing on Lucy’s death to get people to buy her books. She chose not to comment on the issue as she believes that Truth & Beauty was a story about her friendship with one of the most important and special people in her life.
In 2006, Ann became the editor of The Best American Short Stories.
Run’s Release and Parnassus’ Birth
A couple of years after Truth & Beauty was released, Ann published “Run.” The book made it to New York Times bestsellers list. The commencement speech she delivered at the Sarah Lawrence College in 2006 became the foundation of “What Now?” an essay published in 2008.
One big move for Ann happened in 2010. She got into partnership with Karen Hayes and opened a bookstore in Nashville after the biggest book outlet was closed down due to poor sales. Karen came up with the name Parnassus as a pun referring to Nashville being the Greece of America. Parnassus is a mountain in Athens, Greece’s capital city, believed to be the place where poetry and dance originated.
While Karen takes over everything from planning to operations, Ann headed the marketing. Going to book signing events gave her an avenue for promoting their store without spending on advertising. It’s Ann’s way of encouraging people to read. She assures clients that when they set foot on the bookstore, they’d be entertained by people who sincerely love books. Ann even kidded Martha when she was interviewed in the Martha Stewart Show that she has been forcing books on people.
A year later, Ann’s newest book, “State of Wonder,” came out to the delight of her followers. It became successful and was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize. She followed it up with a non-fiction book she called “The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life.” Her most recent work is also a non-fiction one titled "How Knitting Saved My Life Twice.”
It’s her involvement in Parnassus that won Ann a spot in TIME’s 100 Most Inspiring People in 2012, with an introduction written by another author who’s also a good friend of hers, Elizabeth Gilbert—the one who wrote Eat, Pray, Love.
Ann is happily married to a doctor several years her senior. They have no children—by choice—and lives with their pet dog in a beautiful house in Nashville.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
Awards and Achievements
- 1990: Won a residential fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts
- 1992: Published The Patron Saint of Liars
- 1992: The Patron Saint of Liars was named a New York Times Notable Book
- 1993: Received a Bunting Fellowship from the Mary Ingrahm Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College
- 1994: Received the Nashville Banner Tennessee Writer of the Year Award
- 1994: Taft won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize in fiction
- 1997: Released The Magician’s Assistant
- 1998: The Patron Saint of Liars was made into a movie
- 2001: Published "Bel Canto"
- 2001: Became a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist for Bel Canto
- 2002: Received the Orange Prize for Fiction for "Bel Canto"
- 2002: Received the PEN/Faulkner Award for "Bel Canto"
- 2004: Released Truth & Beauty
- 2006: Editor of The Best American Short Stories
- 2007: Released Run
- 2008: Released What Now?
- 2010: Co-founded Parnassus Books with Karen Hayes
- 2011: Published State of Wonder
- 2011: State of Wonder was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize
- 2011: Released The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life
- 2012: Included in the Time 100 list of most influential people in the world
- 2013: Wrote "How Knitting Saved My Life Twice
- Became a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship
- Run was NY Times Bestseller
- Bel Canto became BookSense Book of the Year
Wikipedia (Ann Patchett)
Time (The World's 100 Most Influential People: 2012)
Amazon (Ann Patchett)
The Atlantic (My Life In Sales)
Brain Pickings (What Now? Advice on Writing and Life from Ann Patchett)
The Guardian (Ann Patchett flies flag for indie bookshops with her own store)
The Guardian (A life in writing: Ann Patchett)
The New York Times (A Novelist’s Prime Nesting Place in Nashville)
PowellsBooks.Blog (Ann Patchett Hits All the Right Notes)
Barnes and Noble (Meet the Writers: Ann Patchett)
Amazon Bookstore's Blog (BEA 2007: An Early Q&A with Ann Patchett)
The Guardian (Hijacked by grief)
Harper Collins Publishers (Author Interview With Ann Patchett)
Salon (Ann Patchett on her moment of “Girls” fame: “I am so far out of it!”)