Quindlen, Anna 1953–
Quindlen, Anna 1953–
PERSONAL: Born July 8, 1953, Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Robert V. (a management consultant) and Prudence Quindlen; married Gerald Krovatin (a lawyer), 1978; children: Quin, Christopher, Maria. Education: Barnard College, B.A., 1974. Religion: Roman Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Home—New York, NY; Hoboken, NJ; Cherry Valley, PA. Office—c/o New York Times, 229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036. Agent—Amanda Urban, International Creative Management, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: New York Post, New York, NY, reporter, 1974–77; New York Times, New York, NY, general assignment and city hall reporter, 1977–81, author of biweekly column "About New York," 1981–83, deputy metropolitan editor, 1983–85, author of weekly column, "Life in the 30s" (syndicated), 1986–88, author of biweekly column "Public & Private" (syndicated), 1990–95; Newsweek, author of biweekly column "Last Word," 1999–. Member, Barnard College Board of Trustees, Board of St. Luke's School, Planned Parenthood Federation of America board of advocates, and NARAL Foundation board.
MEMBER: Author's Guild (member of council).
AWARDS, HONORS: Mike Berger Award for distinguished reporting, 1983, for best writing about New York City; named woman of the year, Glamour, 1991; Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 1992, for "Public & Private" columns; fellow of Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1996; honors from Women in Communications, Associated Press, and Society of Silurians; Poynter journalism fellow, Yale University; Victoria fellow in contemporary issues, Rutgers University; University Medal of Excellence, Columbia University; honorary doctorates from Dartmouth College, Denison University, Moravian College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and Stevens Institute of Technology.
Living Out Loud (columns), Random House (New York, NY), 1988.
Object Lessons (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1991.
The Tree That Came to Stay (children's book), illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, Crown (New York, NY), 1992.
Thinking Out Loud: On the Personal, the Political, the Public, and the Private (columns), Fawcett (New York, NY), 1994.
Poems for Life: Famous People Select Their Favorite Poem and Say Why It Inspires Them, Arcade (New York, NY), 1995.
One True Thing (novel), Dell (New York, NY), 1995.
(With Nick Kelsh) Naked Babies, Penguin (New York, NY), 1996.
Happily Ever After (children's book), Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Nick Kelsh) Siblings (sequel to Naked Babies), Penguin (New York, NY), 1998.
Black and Blue (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1998.
A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.
Blessings, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
Loud and Clear, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
Imagined London: A Tour of the World's Greatest Fictional City, National Geographic (Washington, DC), 2004.
Also author of How Reading Changed My Life, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1998; and Being Perfect, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.
ADAPTATIONS: One True Thing was adapted as a film starring Rene Zellweger and Meryl Streep, Universal, 1998.
SIDELIGHTS: Anna Quindlen, author of best-selling novels Object Lessons, Black and Blue, and A Short Guide to a Happy Life and the recipient of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, gained national attention and a loyal following as a syndicated newspaper columnist at the New York Times and as a contributor to Newsweek magazine's "Last Word" column. Marked by their unaffected style, Quindlen's essays are rooted at a domestic level, but address universal concerns. Toronto Globe and Mail contributor John Allemang noted that Quindlen "is the unofficial voice that news most obviously lacks, the personal columnist who finds her truths in the little things." Sybil Steinberg, writing in Publishers Weekly, further lauded Quindlen's style, remarking that in her work the author "tackles the basic questions of life with trenchant and sensitive insight; she has a gift for turning the quotidian into the existential, the mundane into the meaningful."
Another distinguishing characteristic of Quindlen's prose is her proud and outspoken expression of her feminist leanings. In the New Republic, Karen Lehrman observed that in her columns "Quindlen seem[s] at times to be trying to shock New York Times readers with her 'femaleness,' her daring intimacy." The author defended her approach in an interview with Commonweal writer Alexander M. Santora: "I write for me…. I tend to write about what we have come, unfortunately, to call women's issues. Those are issues that directly affect my life and those are issues that are historically underre-ported."
Although fiction was her first love, Quindlen pursued a journalism career as the most viable, stable outlet for her writing activity. She landed a job as a reporter before college graduation and, three years later, was offered a position at one of the nation's most venerable newspapers, the New York Times. Quindlen worked as a general-assignment reporter, periodically reminding her superiors of her interest in writing the paper's "About New York" column, a coveted post which she was eventually granted. In an interview with Chris Lamb of Editor & Publisher, the author explained how this assignment improved her writing skills: "I developed a voice of my own without using the first person and I developed the ability to come up with column ideas." In her next career step, Quindlen advanced in the editorial ranks, becoming deputy metropolitan editor. When her first child was born, however, she left the hectic newsroom to care for him and write a novel. During this time she agreed to write a freelance column targeted at female readers that would run in the Times's "Home" section. She held no lofty expectations for this venture. As Quindlen told Steinberg, "I thought of the column as a way to make a little bit of money while writing my novel. I was just trying hard not to disgrace myself."
Quindlen's weekly columns proved so successful, though, that other newspapers approached her with job offers. Executive editor Abe Rosenthal kept Quindlen at the New York Times with a permanent slot as the author of a weekly column called "Life in the 30s." In "Life in the 30s" Quindlen wrote about her own life during the mid-to late-1980s, earning praise for her honesty and accessible writing style, while drawing readers with astute observations of family life. She also became an unintended voice for the baby-boom generation. Newsweek contributor Melinda Beck observed that the author "occasionally tackles news issues, but she is more at home in the rocky emotional terrain of marriage, parenthood, secret desires and self-doubts." Her candor generated substantial mail from readers eager to share their own stories. Beck quoted Quindlen's editor as saying, "It's as if, by revealing so much of herself, she gives readers permission to explore their innermost selves."
While Quindlen was writing biweekly opinion pieces, her novel Object Lessons was published in 1991. Explaining the work's focal point, she told Steinberg, "I can't think of anything to write about except families. They are a metaphor for every other part of society." Object Lessons serves as both a coming-of-age account and the story of a family growing apart but eventually reconciling during the course of a summer in the mid-1960s. Told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Maggie Scanlan, the work follows the events of a large Irish-Catholic family living in suburban New York. Brash and domineering patriarch John Scanlan runs a con-struction company, controlling his sons with his financial power. Only Maggie's father, Tommy, has rebelled against this manipulation by marrying Connie, a lower-class Italian girl, and refusing to work directly for his father.
During this summer, however, the family's well-being is threatened by a housing development behind Tommy's house. Built by a rival construction company, the project signals the Scanlan construction company's waning influence. Connie's daily interactions with the foreman, an old friend, strain her relationship with Tommy. Other family ties are tested after John suffers a stroke and exerts more pressure on Tommy to run the business and buys him a new house. As Maggie observes her parents trying to cope with their problems, her own world unravels when her best friend rejects her, her mean-spirited cousin Monica gets pregnant, and local boys begin noticing her on a romantic level. Noting the author's successful rendering of adolescent confusion, Time contributor Martha Duffy noted, "Quindlen is at her best writing about the dislocations of growing up, the blows a child does not see coming." In her appraisal of Object Lessons for the New York Times Book Review, Anne Tyler deemed the novel "intelligent, highly entertaining, and laced with acute perceptions about the nature of day-to-day family life."
While Object Lessons sat atop the bestseller lists, Quindlen continued writing her "Public & Private" columns. Her contributions to journalism were recognized in 1992 when she received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Expressing her appreciation for the honor, she remarked in the New York Times, "I think of a column as having a conversation with a person that it just so happens I can't see…. It's nice to know that my end of the conversation was heard." Her second collection of New York Times columns, Thinking Out Loud: On the Personal, the Political, the Public, and the Private, covers topics as diverse as the Persian Gulf War, absentee fathers, and abortion. A Kirkus Reviews writer complimented Quindlen for writing with greater maturity and depth than in her previous collection. The book, Quindlen later explained, was her attempt to comment on world events from an "underrepresented and valuable female viewpoint."
Quindlen's second novel, One True Thing, deals with a person's right to die. The narrator, a twenty-four-year-old woman jailed for killing her dying mother, describes her story. Ellen had been asked by her father to return home after her college graduation to help nurse her dying mother. Always a "daddy's girl" and having previously dismissed her mother as an anachronism, Ellen was unprepared for the world she entered. A Booklist reviewer described the book as not an "easy read about how cancer ravages Ellen's once radiant and ever-nurturing mother, but it is eminently satisfying to witness Ellen's transformation from an often glib, emotionally suppressed overachiever into a woman who begins to fathom the meaning of love." A Kirkus Reviews writer described the novel as "wrenching, albeit flawed." In explaining Quindlen's handling of reestablishing the relationship between mother and daughter, the writer went on to say that "Quindlen shines, capturing perfectly the casual intimacy that mothers and daughters share, as well as the friction between women of two very different generations." The story has a mystery-like ending, which the Kirkus Reviews writer applauded, saying that when Quindlen "gets it right—which is often—she places herself in the league of Mary Gordon and Sue Miller."
Quindlen's third novel, Black and Blue, tells a story of spousal abuse. Frannie Benedetto, an abused woman, takes herself and her nine-year-old son Robert away from their violent home to start anew in a distant state, but things go awry. Literary Guild reviewer Miranda de Ray wrote, "Just when things seem like they're going well, they go terribly wrong. The pages leading up to that heart-stopping climax are turned with lightning-quick speed." Maggie Paley, writing in the New York Times Book Review, believed that Quindlen's attempt to "dramatize the gravity of domestic violence … is nowhere near as convincing as the news reports all of us have seen," but concedes that the book is a page-turner. Jill Smolowe in People complimented Quindlen for "demonstrating the same winning qualities that inform her journalism: close observation, well-reasoned argument and appealing economy of language." A Time magazine reviewer took this sentiment a step further, adding that Quindlen "has caught the evil essence," and described Black and Blue as being "to domestic violence what Uncle Tom's Cabin was to slavery—a morally crystallizing act of propaganda that works because it has the ring of truth."
In 1999, after a break from column-writing to write her first few novels, Quindlen assumed the role of biweekly columnist for Newsweek's "Last Word," succeeding the late Meg Greenfield and alternating with George F. Will. Newsweek chairman and editor-in-chief Richard M. Smith praised Quindlen in a press release posted on the Writenews Web site, saying "Anna's wonderfully creative mind, her no-nonsense thinking and her unerring sense of justice and injustice have made her one of the most powerful voices of her generation."
The year following her Newsweek appointment Quindlen published the bestselling A Short Guide to a Happy Life, a brief but poignant compilation of Quindlen's advice on enjoying life. The book offers pointers, such as: "Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work"; and "think of life as a terminal illness, because if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived." Writing for Spirituality and Health Online, reviewers Frederic and Mary Ann Brusset described the book as "a brief but snappy treasure trove of advice that sounds like it was given as a commencement address for college students." Many of Quindlen's inspirations stem from her grief over the death of her mother when Quindlen was nineteen. The tragedy caused Quindlen to appreciate life and view it in a different way. "So much of her writing deals with her life before and after her mother's death; she speaks honestly about how much her life changed as a result of that loss. I admire her writing style, and her ability to tell it like it is—as she does in this little book, a reminder to all to appreciate the wonder," praised Maria Shriver in O: The Oprah Magazine.
The stately house in Blessings, which bears the novel's name, is modeled after the Quindlen's family home in Pennsylvania. When the story begins, the novel's main character, Lydia, is eighty years old and haunted by memories. When a baby is left on the doorstep of the house a young, lovable, ex-con caretaker discovers it and tries to persuade Lydia to help him keep the young infant. While the initial setting of the novel is intriguing, reviewer Nancy Pate concluded in the Orlando Sentinel that "what eventually hooks readers is the story of Lydia Blessings and her secret history." Nothing in Lydia's life has been the way it appeared: Lydia's husband was really in love with her late brother, Sunny, and Lydia became pregnant, but the child was not her husband's. Lydia's mother proclaimed to be Episcopalian, but was really Jewish. As Lydia reminiscences, shocking revelations unfold. "Quindlen drops clues to the past throughout the book," Pate added. "Some are like pebbles barely rippling the surface…. But others are like rocks—the flaming red of a child's hair, of ashes scattered across a pond—that plop into the narrative so loudly that subsequent revelations become anti-climatic." Critics praised the characterization in the book—including the characterization of the house itself. "The grand old house in Blessings is a force of safety, home and family," remarked Susannah Meadows in a review for Newsweek International. "There is a reassuring, steady feel to the writing and an intriguing spike-ness to the characters," contended Miami Herald reviewer Amy Driscoll. A Kirkus Reviews contributor enjoyed the book's message about life and marriage, but concluded that Blessings does not measure up to Quindlen's prior works. The reviewer ultimately described the book as "comfortable, not Quindlen's best."
Quindlen's Imagined London: A Tour of the World's Greatest Fictional City is a an exploration of London as it is and as it has been described in literary classics by writers such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf. Although the book received positive reviews, it was the collection of columns Loud and Clear (published earlier that same year), which earned true acclaim. Taken from her New York Times and Newsweek columns, the essays in the collection cover Quindlen's usual topics: observations about the world at large and observations of the world at home. With her famous humor and insight, Quindlen discusses everything from September 11 to women's issues to the war in Iraq to Harry Potter. A Publishers Weekly contributor praised the book's range and stated that "these razor-sharp musings" are Quindlen "at the top of her game." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, was equally impressed. She concluded: "A valiant writer who addresses every aspect of our lives with both gravitas and humor, Quindlen is a tonic for mind and soul."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August 18, 1994; November 1, 1996; June 1, 1999, review of Black and Blue, p. 1797; September 15, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Blessings, p. 180; February 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Loud and Clear, p. 930; September 15, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Imagined London: A Tour of the World's Greatest Fictional City, p. 201.
Chicago Tribune, October 17, 1988.
Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 1996, p. B1; February 11, 1998.
Commonweal, February 14, 1992, pp. 9-13.
Editor & Publisher, November 30, 1991, pp. 32-34.
Entertainment Weekly, March 12, 1999, review of Black and Blue, p. 63.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 1, 1991; June 12, 1999, review of Black and Blue, p. D4.
Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, March, 1999, review of How Reading Changed My Life, p. 504.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1993; July 15, 1994; October 1, 1996; September 1, 2002, review of Blessings; July 1, 2004, review of Imagined London, p. 622.
Library Journal, February 15, 1999, review of Black and Blue, p. 126; October 15, 2002, Nancy Pearl, review of Blessings.
Literary Guild, March, 1998, p. 15.
Miami Herald, September 18, 2001, Amy Driscoll, review of Blessings.
Ms., September, 1988, p. 88; January-February, 1998, p. 83.
New Republic, June 10, 1991, pp. 38-41.
Newsweek, April 4, 1988, p. 65.
Newsweek International, October 14, 2002, Susannah Meadows, review of Blessings.
New York, December 24, 1990, p. 100.
New York Times, December 1, 1988; April 18, 1991; April 8, 1992; May 11, 1997, p. 35; June 22, 1997, p. 6; February 6, 1998, p. E43.
New York Times Book Review, April 14, 1991, pp. 7, 9; December 29, 1996, p. 15; October 19, 1997, p. 7; November 16, 1997, p. 52; February 8, 1998; March 21, 1999, review of Black and Blue, p. 32.
O: The Oprah Magazine, December, 2001, Maria Shriver, review of A Short Guide to a Happy Life, p. 132.
Off Our Backs, December, 2001, review of Black and Blue, p. 34.
Orlando Sentinel, September 18, 2001, Nancy Pate, review of Blessings.
People, June 3, 1991, pp. 26-27; October 17, 1994.
Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1991, pp. 40-41; July 1, 1996; December 2, 2002, review of Blessings, p. 21; February 23, 2004, review of Loud and Clear, p. 61.
School Library Journal, May, 1999, review of Siblings, p. 162; June, 2005, Susan H. Woodcock, review of Being Perfect, p. 191.
Time, April 8, 1991, p. 76; February 23, 1998, Lance Morrow, review of Black and Blue p. 84.
USA Today, November 14, 1996.
Book Reporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (March 19, 2003), "Anna Quindlen, Bio."
Houston Chronicle Online, http://chron.com/ (September 20, 2002), Sharan Gibson, review of Blessings.
Royce Carlton Incorporated Web site, http://www.roycecarlton.com/ (November 24, 2003), "Anna Quindlen."
Spirituality and Health Online, http://www.spiritualityhealth.com/ (March 19, 2003), Frederic and Mary Ann Brusset, review of A Short Guide to a Happy Life.
Writenews, http://www.writenews.com/ (June 16, 1999), Newsweek press release.