Today is the birthday of American novelist and essayist Ann Patchett (1963) (books by this author), best known for her novel Bel Canto (2002), which begins with 57 men, 18 terrorists, and an opera singer holed up in a Peruvian mansion. It was inspired by the four-month-long, 1996 Peruvian hostage crisis. About the novel’s grand scope, Patchett says, “I’d always heard that melodrama is a bad thing in a novel, so I thought, what if I go all in?”
Patchett was born in Los Angeles, California. Her father was a respected member of the Los Angeles Police Department who was instrumental in catching Sirhan Sirhan and Charles Manson. Her parents divorced and Patchett’s mother remarried, moving Patchett to Nashville at the age of six. She always wanted to be a writer and says, “A deep, early love of poetry should be mandatory for all writers.” She married at 24 and was divorced by 25, an experience she writes about in her essay collection, The Story of a Happy Marriage (2013).
Growing up, Patchett and her sister fancied visiting a small bookstore in Nashville called Mills. Patchett says, “The people there remembered who you were and what you read, even if you were 10.” She never forgot about Mills, especially when, on whim, she decided to open her own independent bookstore in Nashville after two large chain stores closed. She and her business partner opened the store in a former tanning salon and called it Parnassus, after Mount Parnassus, which in Greek mythology is the home of literature, learning, and music.
Her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars (1992), about a home for unwed mothers, was originally written as her graduate thesis for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She’s since written several other novels, including The Magician’s Assistant (1997), Run (2007), State of Wonder (2011), and her latest book, Commonwealth (2016), which she based on her life growing up with four step-siblings. She dedicated Commonwealth to her stepfather, who always told her, “Someday I’m going to open up one of your books and the dedication is going to say, ‘To Mike Glasscock.’”