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Ann Patchett’s Lane Lecture at Stanford a Huge Success
Ann Patchett

 

I was fortunate to be one of the six hundred plus in the audience when Ann Patchett, a popular novelist, read from her work and answered questions at Stanford Tuesday night.  Introduced glowlingly by Eavan Boland and Tobias Wolff, she starred.  Standing away from the lectern, Ann's candid answers engaged her intimately with the audience.

While her reading of an encounter with an Anaconda on the Amazon was gripping, and her tales of making the cover of the New York Times Magazine by opening the Parnassus bookstore in Nashville timely, it was her answers to two questions that endeared her to me.

One of the questioners, the literary equivalent of a heckler, was in the healthcare field.  He questioned the accuracy of the medical information in some of her novels.  She was unflinching, saying her job was to make something that could have happened, something that was possible, and nothing she wrote failed that test.  She said her doctor-husband would prescribe her anything and rattled off technical drug information like a pharmacist without seeming the slightest bit defensive.

But she showed most poise when she talked about the possibility of her being ‘too nice.’  She was quick to point out that, shortly before he died, John Updike reviewed her work and said her characters were too nice.  Again, she was unflinching, stating simply that virtually all the people she worked with are nice and she felt no need to create a Hannibal Lecter—she used his name—and challenging the audience to admit how many of their ‘homies’ were nice.  But what really set off her answer was her saying she was “A chip—one tile in a huge mosaic of writers,” which I took as a statement forgiving herself for not tackling every un-nice person and the sociological situation from which they sprang.  In short, when they gave the lecture on the megalomaniac-author, Ann Patchett took the day off.