October 25 is party day for novelist Anne Tyler. Born
in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941, her father, Lloyd Parry Tyler, was a chemist and her
mother, Phyllis Mahon Tyler, a social worker. Anne is the author of a wide range of novels, including Searching
for Caleb (1974), The Accidental Tourist (1985), and
Breathing Lessons (1988), which won for her the
Pulitzer Prize for
Fiction in 1989.
"I mean you're given all these lessons for the
unimportant things - piano-playing, typing. You're given years of lessons
in how to do in normal life. But how about parenthood? Or marriage,
either, come to think of it. Before you can drive a car you need a
state-approved course of instruction, but driving a car is nothing,
nothing, compared to living day in and day out with a husband and rising
up a new human being." - from Breathing Lessons
Tyler's parents moved frequently,
living mostly in Quaker
communes throughout the South and Midwest before finally settling in
Raleigh, North Carolina. She was home schooled and largely ignorant of
the technological advances of society. She spent most of her youth
shoeless, and she enrolled in public school for the first time at the age of
11. Her classmates were amazed that she'd never used a telephone.
She said, "My upbringing made me view the normal world with a certain amount
of distance...to this day I am surprised by the taste of Coca-Cola."
Since she had difficulty falling asleep at night, she devised a game
in which she would tell herself made up stories. Most of them were
centered around people who had difficulty coping with the everyday stress
and strain of life and the changes required to survive.
At the age of 19, Tyler was graduated from Duke University,
where she won the Anne Flexner Award for creative writing on two occasions. Her
first published short story, Laura, appeared in Duke University's
literary magazine, the Archive. She completed her post-graduate
work in Russian studies at Columbia University before settling in Baltimore,
which would become her primary home in life. She married Taghi
Modarressi, a psychologist from Iran, in1963, and the couple have two
Tyler's first novel proved difficult for her. She had
trouble finding an ending for it. When she accidentally left the
manuscript on an airplane, she was forced to rewrite it from scratch, which
resulted in If Morning Ever Comes (1964).
She went on writing and publishing novels while raising her
children, doing all of her writing between the hours of 8:00 AM and 3:30 PM,
when her daughters were at school. She said, "If things [were] going
well, I [would] feel a little drugged by the events in my story...When the
children [rang] the doorbell I [would] have trouble sorting my lives
out...We bake cookies. Run the dog. Argue. My characters
grow paler and paler and finally slink away."
Most of Tyler's novels are set in Baltimore. The
city's Roland Park area is one of the places where her characters Macon
Leary of The Accidental Tourist, Delia Grinstead from Ladder of
Years, and the Peck Family in Searching for Caleb live.
Muriel Pritchett from the Accidental Tourist, the Tull family in
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and Rebecca Davitch of Back When
We Were Grownups call the city's Charles Village home.
Tyler gave very few interviews in her early career and
fewer still as the years passed. She long ago decided that she enjoyed
being a private person. She doesn't do book tours and nearly never
appears in person or on talk shows. If she responds to questions by
reporters, she usually does so in writing.
Anne Tyler said, "[I write because] I want to live other
lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get.
Writing is my way of making other chances. It's lucky I do it on
paper. Probably I would be schizophrenic--and six times divorced—if I
Tyler, whose most recent book is The Amateur Marriage
(2003), one said, "There aren't enough quiet, gentle, basically
good people in [contemporary fiction.]"
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