“My family can always tell when I’m well into a novel because the meals get very crummy.”
Anne Tyler was born on this day in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1941. She is 71 years old.
She is the oldest of four children. Her parents moved around, searching for the best place to raise the family, but settled, when Anne was six, in the Celo Quaker Community near Burnsville North Carolina. Anne and her siblings attended a small local school. She says she never planned on being a writer, but would tell herself stories to get to sleep at night. She liked Westerns, but, her favorite book was Virginia Lee Burton’s tale, The Little House. Later she read Eudora Welty who showed her “that very small things are often really larger than the large things.” [Tyler from a 1977 New York Times interview. nytimes.com]
She majored in Russian at Duke University, but an English 101 class with Professor Reynolds Price started her on a literary career. Tyler graduated at 19 Phi Beta Kappa and Price introduced her to his literary agent. Tyler won the Anne Flexner creative writing award twice at Duke. She went on to Columbia to do post-graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia. She worked as a bibliographer at Duke and at the law library at McGill University in Montreal after graduating. She published short stories in The New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post and Harper’s Magazine prior to settling in Baltimore and marrying psychiatrist Taghi Modarressi.
Her first novel, If Morning Ever Comes was published in 1964. The Tin Can Tree followed a year later. Tyler doesn’t like either of the books, and almost left the manuscript for ‘Morning’ on a plane on purpose. There is a five-year gap between ‘Tin Can’ and her third novel A Slipping-Down Life. She spent the time productively — she had her two daughters, Tezh and Mitra.
In 1974 she published Celestial Navigation. It is one of her favorite’s (one of mine too.) Here’s the Amazon write up…
Thirty-eight-year-old Jeremy Pauling has never left home. He lives on the top floor of a Baltimore row house where he creates collages of little people snipped from wrapping paper. His elderly mother putters in the rooms below, until her death. And it is then that Jeremy is forced to take in Mary Tell and her child as boarders. Mary is unaware of how much courage it takes Jeremy to look her in the eye. For Jeremy, like one of his paper creations, is fragile and easily torn–especially when he’s falling in love…. [Amazon.com]
Tyler wrote one book about every two years. So by 1980 she’d published eight novels. Searching for Caleb, Earthly Possessions and Morgan’s Passing rounded out the early list.
In 1982 she published Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. ‘Homesick’ “explores tensions inside a family – for Tyler it is the basic battlefield of all society.” [Books and Writers] The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pen/Faulkner Award. [And it remains my favorite of Tyler’s novels. This book would be on my Desert Island Bookshelf*.]
Book #10, The Accidental Tourist, put Tyler on the map. Not only did she win the national Book Critics Circle Award for it in 1985, but it was made into a major motion picture starring William Hurt and Geena Davis. It too was shortlisted for a Pulitzer, but Tyler had to wait one more book before capturing that prize. [I loved the sibling interaction in this one, as well as the hope for new and unlooked for love.]
Of her writing process Tyler said:
“I think of my work as a whole. And really what it seems to me I’m doing is populating a town. Pretty soon it’s going to be just full of lots of people I’ve made up. None of the people I write about are people I know. That would be no fun. And it would be very boring to write about me. Even if I led an exciting life, why live it again on paper?… I hate to travel, but writing a novel is like taking a long trip. This way I can stay peacefully at home.” [Tyler from a 1977 New York Times interview. nytimes.com]
Breathing Lessons earned the Pulitzer and was named Time Magazine’s Book of the Year. Maggie and Ira have been married for 28 years. Things have gotten, shall we say “comfortable?” Like an old leather recliner is comfortable. They take a 90-mile trip to a funeral and “Tyler explores the problems of marriage, love and happiness” [Ibid] [Read it, and you’ll never eat fried chicken again with out a remembering the melancholy cooking scene near the end of this book.] It was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie in 1994 starring James Garner and Joanne Woodward and into a stage play.
1991 brought Saint Maybe with guilt ridden 17-year-old Ian Bedloe dropping out of school to take care of his dead brother’s children. School Library Journal says of the novel:
“Tyler’s remarkable novel pulls at the heart-strings and jogs the memories of forgotten youth. Ian’s story is neither action packed nor fast-moving, but each page will be eagerly anticipated. “[Amazon.com]
Ever feel like your family takes your for granted and no one listens to you when you speak? Delia Grinstead, the heroine of Ladder of Years, does. She REALLY does. And when things come to a head during a trip to the beach she walks away from it all to re-discover who she really is.
A Patchwork Planet was another of my favorites. 29-year-old Barnaby is the family’s black sheep. He got into trouble as a teen and now he doesn’t aspire to much more than helping out old people in his job at “RENT-A-BACK.” There’s a cast of fantastic, spindly, eccentric clients, and Barnaby’s less than loveable family. Then there’s Barnaby himself…
“Sharp and impatient at painful–and painfully funny–family dinners, apparently unable to keep his finger off the auto-self-destruct button every time his life improves. As much as his superb creator, he is a poet of disappointment, resignation, and minute transformation.” [Kerry Field review on Amazon.com]
Tyler’s 15th Novel is Back When We Were Grownups. The book is about widow, Rebecca Davitch, who reassesses her life at the age of 53. The Amateur Marriage centers on the crumbling marriage of Michael and Pauline Anton. Married just after he returned from WWII the couple wonders if they know anything more about each now than they did 30 years ago. Two families adopting Korean infant daughters meet at the airport at the beginning of Digging To America. The novel follows the two different families (with wildly different parenting techniques) who meet up every year for an annual Arrival Party. Tyler’s handling of mixed cultures adds a new dimension to her usual mix of excellent social commentary.
Liam Pennywell is the protagonist of Noah’s Compass. He is a teacher forced into early retirement who struggles with the fact that he’s never really reached his full potential.
Her latest novel is The Beginner’s Goodbye, which the Boston Globe calls:
“An absolute charmer of a novel about grief, healing, and the transcendent power of love . . . With sparkling prose and undeniable charm, Tyler gets at the beating heart of what it means to lose someone, to say goodbye, and to realize how we are all, perhaps, always ultimate beginners in the complex business of life . . . A dazzling meditation on marriage, community, and redemption.” [Boston Globe review, Amazon.com]
Tyler wrote two children’s book, Tumble Tower and Timothy Tugbottom Says NO! Both were illustrated by her daughter Mitra Modarressi. Tumble Tower with the fabulous Molly the Messy is a must for emergent readers who want a giggle and a hug. (I haven’t read Timothy.)
She jots notes on index card where ever she happens to be in her house then collects them in one of two metal boxes. There is a blue box for NOVEL notes and a second box for SHORT STORIES.
She says she isn’t driven to write but is “driven to get things written down before (she) forget(s) them.” [Ibid] Then once it is all written down she reads it all back and “suddenly it seems as if someone else is telling me the story and I say ‘now I see’ and then I go all the way back and drop references to what it means.”[Tyler from a 1977 New York Times interview. nytimes.com]
“Sometimes a book will start with a picture that pops into my mind and I ask myself questions about it and if I put all the answers together I’ve got a novel.” [Tyler from a 1977 New York Times interview. nytimes.com]
You may have noticed that I’ve quoted a rather old New York Time’s interview quite a bit in this bioBlog. That’s because Tyler very seldom gives interviews.
I read most of her early books in my twenties but I’m going to go put them on my Kindle now. I wonder how much they’ve changed because of how much I’ve changed over the years? I know one thing that will change… the font size. I will pump up that font size to something nice and big for these ole eyes. Ha!
*So … what 10 books would you want on your Desert Island Bookshelf ? I’d definitely have Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant on my shelf. I know that Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice would be on there too. (I’d like to be clever and get a Jane Austen collection with all six novels, but then the font size would be too small to read) How about you? What books would make the list?