Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles in 1963 and raised in Nashville. She
attended Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. In
1990, she won a residential fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in
Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she wrote her first novel, The Patron
Saint of Liars. It was named a New York Times Notable Book for 1992. In
1993, she received a Bunting Fellowship from the Mary Ingrahm Bunting Institute
at Radcliffe College. Patchett's second novel, Taft, was awarded the
Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best work of fiction in 1994. Her third
novel, The Magician's Assistant, was short-listed for England's Orange
Prize and earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Her next novel, Bel Canto, won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was named the Book Sense Book of the Year. It sold over a million copies in the United States and has been translated into thirty languages. In 2004, Patchett published Truth & Beauty, a memoir of her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy. It was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. Truth & Beauty was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Chicago Tribune's Heartland Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Alex Award from the American Library Association. Patchett is also the author of Run, What Now?, and State of Wonder.
She was the editor for Best American Short Stories 2006.
Patchett has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Harper's Magazine, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, Gourmet, and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, Karl VanDevender. Her mother is the author Jeanne Ray, a former nurse and now bestselling novelist of books such as Julie and Romeo, Step-Ball-Change and Eat Cake.
This biography was last updated on 07/23/2011.
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A Conversation with Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto
What inspired you to write this novel?
Usually it's hard to pin down the exact point at which you come up with an idea for a novel but this one is easy: December 17th, 1996, the night that the terrorist organization Tupac Amaru took over the Japanese embassy in Lima, Peru. I'm sure I didn't know that day that this story would turn into Bel Canto, but I was completely focused on it from the start. It had so many elements that were compelling to me: confinement, survival, the construction of family. For a long time I'd wanted to find a way to experience the things I read about in the paper, to grieve for disasters that had no immediate affect on my life. Turning a tragedy I knew nothing about into this novel was part of that process.
Were you an opera aficionado prior to writing Bel Canto?
I wasn't. I knew as much about opera as I did about baseball, which is to say nothing. But once I came up with the character of Roxane Coss I threw myself into learning about it whole-heartedly. The best thing I did was to buy a book called Opera 101 by Fred Plotkin. It tells you how to listen and what to listen to. It takes you through everything you need ...
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