Friday, April 16, 2010

Anna Quindlen

Last night, Marilyn, Kris, and I headed down to the Margaret Mitchell Literature Center to hear Anna Quindlen tout her new novel, Every Last One.

I imagine that in fifty years, Quindlen will be one of the foremost writers of the late 20th and early 21st century. Not only is she a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, but she is the "first writer ever to have books appear on the fiction, nonfiction, and self help New York Times bestseller lists."

On our way into the bowels of Atlanta, the traffic wasn't bad, but once we exited to 14th street, it was "crack" traffic. Big SUVs blowing black smoke, cabs hovering at the curbs, harried policeman directing traffic from ridiculously tall office buildings, and then those of us from the "burbs" just trying to get to Taco Mac* and a book reading. :)

I knew that Atlanta had its own version of the Tea Party that day, but I'm thinking, these folks need to go back to Valdosta.

Marilyn: John (her husband) said he was stopping off at the Tea Party on his way home from work.
Me: Go John!
Marilyn: I think he's just looking for refreshments.

We ordered our tacos (I felt obligated), and then we headed across the street to the Margaret Mitchell Literature Center.

Since we ran a little late, most of the chairs in the center were full, and the ones on the left side faced a blinding sun reflecting off the glass building across the street.

The whole front row center was empty, so we sat there for like five seconds before we all exchanged glances and said, "Nah."

Carolyn: I'm not really a front row person.
Me: Unless it's Elvis.

We scuttled over to the left side and sat on the row behind this lone man. (Could have been a Tea Party Refugee). We settled in to wait on Anna Quindlen who ran late.

Marilyn: It's running late.
Me: Someone always needs to say that.

Carolyn: I'm glad we moved so we can make comments.
Me: Ask the guy in front of us if he reads her books.
Carolyn: You ask him. You're the blogger.
Me: Not that kind of blogger.

Eh, if he had been cute, I might have.

Behind me, I hear a woman ask her friend: "Will phenobarbital relax me?
I didn't turn around to see what she looked like.

The crowd was Buckhead, dressed in linens, high priced jeans and shoes, and one woman was wearing a turban.

Marilyn: I'd look good in that.

There were more men than usual, and Carolyn and I attributed it to her stint at a NYT columnist and her "Last Word" in Newsweek.

Me: Newsweek used to be such a good magazine, now it's pretty content free.
Carolyn: I like that.
Marilyn: Me too.

With a fifteen minute delay, Quindlen finally shows up and quips about how thankful she is that we braved the bumper to bumper traffic on Peachtree.

Me: Must be those tea partiers.

Dressed in black slacks, creamed colored blouse, and a three quarter length tweedish jacket, Quindlen opened with a famous writers's line: "Writing is easy, you just have to sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."

And from then on, Quindlen had her audience.

Articulate, witty, and intelligent, she interwove her writing experiences, her memorable book signings (where one four year old girl had her sign a copy of The Little Red Hen), her conversations with other writers, her family, her upbringing, as well as her favorite writers with a reading of a chapter from her current book, Every Last One.

She was terrific to listen to, and I was disappointed when she quit taking questions and went to sign books, a line that seemed much longer than the crowd at hand.

Some of the highlights:

  • Her favorite writers: Dickens, Austen, Eliot, Wharton, and Faulkner.

  • She also likes Don Delillo, Russell Banks, and Amy Bloom. She highly recommends a book by Ron Rush titled Serena.

  • She added that she had recently chatted with the matriarch of an upstanding New York family who at 85 seemed in wonderful health to Quindlen who commented on it. The woman corrected her assumption with "Oh, but I can't read anymore." Quindlen concludes, "Thatwould be a funeral bell toll for me."
[I nodded. *sighs* :( ]

Her conclusions on writing:
  • "I believe you can be taught to write but not be taught to write brilliantly. You have to be willing to be picked to pieces, and you have to learn to take that bleeding. It still hurts when I get back my manuscripts full of annotations. "
[See what I was training you for, former students?]

  • "Sometimes [writing] is like going into a trance -- you come out of it and you have written -- it's unexplainble. You just fire on all cylinders -- you can't teach someone to fire on all cylinders."
[I couldn't even find the cylinders on my students.]
  • "Every sixteen year old wants to be a poet. Why? Because there is less of it."

Her next work:
  • A novel on aging -- she wrote one when she was 30 called Life in the 30s -- now she's gonna write one to be published on her 60th birthday -- it will be called Where the Hell Did I Leave My Keys?

On the newspaper and books:

  • "We ignored the Internet for ten years [we thought it was interesting concept that would never catch on]. Now we have to figure out how to make a living with our content on the Internet."
[It wasn't just the newspaper business -- education ignored it too -- myself included. :) ]
  • "America now has the capacity to be better informed than ever before -- but they complain they dont' have the time. I say, if people have time to watch Dancing With the Stars, they have time to be informed. That is all about choice."
[Informed? DWTS? Tough call.]
  • "There is no death of the book. It will not be either/or even though our country sometimes is bi-polar that way. There were be two different versions of reading. Folks thought TV would replace radio -- we have both. Ten years ago, book publishers worried that audio books would hurt hard covers, and there was a policy that the audio book come out three years after the book was published. Now, they come out at the same time. There may be the lessening of the book, but we will still have the book."

One of the last questions that Quindlen answered was "What author [living or dead] would you like to have dinner with and what would you serve?

Quindlen: Hmm. I might say Dickens, but no, I think Jane Austen. I would serve pizza. I'm pretty sure Jane Austen would not have had pizza before.


Carolyn, Kris, Marilyn, and I -- outside the Margaret Mitchell Literature Center.

* One comment about Taco Mac: Okay, I know it's a bar, but does it have to be so loud and so distracting? -- and why were men hanging out there like they were "skeered" to go home? Okay, I know there are like seventy- three televisions in there on ESPN and CNN -- but seriously, it was so....din. Din. Din. Din. One guy, tie loosened and hair in his eye, sipping a Blue Moon and watching the Braves, had his dry-cleaning over his arm which he carried about the bar -- occasionally the plastic would get the better of him and slide to the floor. Me: Yo, buddy? -- just hang it on your chair. Other scenes: a mowhawk (I mean, didn't those go out in the 80s?) -- and the guy sitting next to him looked like Eddie Vedder... and a whole table of guys -- all with their ball caps on backwards? Me: All of you? The place was packed with men [quite the menagerie] -- not that this is a bad thing -- but Gawd, it was so loud, I couldn't hear anything Marilyn, Kris, and eventually Carolyn, Marilyn's sister who met us there, said. Geez. Maybe men just don't need to be heard?



  1. The Tea Party would serve our country far better if only it stuck to serving caffeinated refreshments. ;)

  2. Why was I not invited to this?! That would have been comment central.

    I liked her comments on digital books and the future of bound books. I can think of nothing more awful than to settle down to pleasure read with another machine.

    "I believe you can be taught to write but not be taught to write brilliantly. You have to be willing to be picked to pieces, and you have to learn to take that bleeding. It still hurts when I get back my manuscripts full of annotations. "
    [See what I was training you for, former students?]

    I do not claim to be brilliant, but this is certainly true. I was kind of hoping the pain would go away at some point, but I guess that's what you sign up for when you decide to write. So a life of pain and agony; oh, and maybe I'll die of TB. Or was that just the wives of poets?

  3. thank you for you to make me learn more,thank you∩0∩ ........................................

  4. Hey Gillham!
    Honors Day 2010 is coming up this Friday and I was hoping that you would make an appearance since you are Star teacher :)

    If you could shoot me an email at i'll give you more details about that day

    Thanks ! :)

  5. Even when you talk about a great author I should read. I just can't help but smile of the memory of your evening. *sigh* there are so many things I miss about Atlanta, traffic is not one of them :P. Oh, and I love Taco Mac LOL. And the title of her new book....priceless!!!!

  6. Joe loves Dancing with the Stars!!

  7. How on earth did you manage to get that many quotes? Insane! Loved this post! There is a big selection of Quindlen books at the American library her. Thanks for sharing!