April 19, 2012 Since last May, when she published a bestselling novel (State of Wonder) and simultaneously announced that she and Karen Hayes were opening a bookstore in Nashville (Parnassus Books, now the most famous independent bookstore in the country), Ann Patchett has been having what she calls “a media-heavy moment.” In fact it’s been a media-heavy year, and the spotlight shows no sign of dimming. Patchett has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize, written an op-ed piece for The New York Times, made Time magazine’s list of the hundred most influential people in the world, and appeared on the PBS NewsHour—all in less than thirty-six hours.
Oh, and tomorrow Patchett heads to New York to attend the Literary Debutante Ball as One Story magazine’s 2012 Literary Fairy Godmother, someone the magazine recognizes for being “extraordinarily supportive of other writers.” In honor of the event, One Story asked Patchett if she had any advice for young writers: “Show kindness whenever possible.” she said. “Show it to the people in front of you, the people coming up behind you, and the people with whom you are running neck and neck. It will vastly improve the quality of your own life, the lives of others, and the state of the world.”
Patchett should know: in fact, yesterday Time recognized her as among the hundred most influential people on the planet—”the people who inspire us, entertain us, challenge us and change our world.” As Patchett’s friend and fellow author Elizabeth Gilbert noted in her Time testimonial, “My friend the writer Ann Patchett is a woman of wisdom, determination, generosity and courage. Her readers have probably always suspected this. Ann’s moral code, after all, thrums throughout her novels—where characters are often called upon to summon up their decency, take a bold action and shift forever some stale old paradigm of power.”
Also yesterday, as if to ratify Time‘s pronouncement, Patchett was interviewed by the PBS NewsHour about why she believes the Pulitzer Prize jury made a colossal mistake this year in refusing to name a winner in fiction. (Ironically Patchett appeared opposite Lev Grossman, a book critic for Time, who took the opposing view.) At PBS, Patchett reprised many of the arguments she had made the day before in a widely disseminated op-ed piece for The New York Times: “If I feel disappointment as a writer and indignation as a reader, I manage to get all the way to rage as a bookseller,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, the world of literature lacks the scandal, hype and pretty dresses that draw people to the Academy Awards, which, by the way, is not an institution devoted to choosing the best movie every year as much as it is an institution designed to get people excited about going to the movies. The Pulitzer Prize is our best chance as writers and readers and booksellers to celebrate fiction. This was the year we all lost.”
Not to contradict one of the hundred most influential people in the world, but just to keep moving down the list of things Ann Patchett is not herself losing this week: on Tuesday—if you’re keeping track, that’s the same day the Times op-ed piece appeared but the day before the PBS appearance and the announcement in Time—Patchett learned that she had made the shortlist for the Orange Prize. This major literary award is given annually to a novel written in English by a woman. (Patchett is an old-hand at nods by the Orange Prize: her novel The Magician’s Assistant was shortlisted in in 1998; Bel Canto won the prize in 2002.) The winner this year will be announced at the Royal Festival Hall in London on May 30. The prize carries a cash award of £30,000.
Being shortlisted for the Orange Prize is a tremendous honor for an author. But an honor that might be even closer to Patchett’s heart this particular year, her debut year as a bookseller, is the Most Engaging Author award, given by the American Booksellers Association. A story she tells in her most recent blog post for Parnassus is a good example of why the ABA picked Patchett for this one. Her new post prominently features a book by Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One, that two different Parnassus employees recommended to her. “In the space of a few minutes, two people I respect and admire had recommended a book I’d never read,” she writes. “This is what it means to have a bookstore. It’s a place you can find people talking passionately about Evelyn Waugh at 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. It gives me enormous faith in the world.”
For more updates on Tennessee authors, please visit Chapter 16’s News & Notes page, here.