Zenana Book Club

Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen, journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner, novelist, mother, will always see herself as a little girl flung legs akimbo in a great chair, head lost in a book. When Quindlen was young, reading was far more than an idle activity, it was her escape hatch, her dream machine, her wormhole to a parallel universe. "In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself," she writes in her latest work, a book-length essay titled How Reading Changed My Life, (Library of Contemporary Thought, September 1998).

It's not as if Quindlen had much to escape from. Hers was the kind of wholesome, plain vanilla 1950s childhood that inspired Saturday Evening Post covers. "I sometimes joke that my greatest shortcoming as a writer is that I had an extremely happy childhood," she says. The eldest of five children, Quindlen, born in 1953, grew up in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, close to the bosom of her large Irish-Italian family. Her father was a management consultant, her mother "a sort of a world-class mother. She seemed to believe that on the eighth day, God created the five of us," quips Quindlen.

After graduating from Barnard College in '74, Quindlen started out as a reporter at the New York Post in 1974. But it was at The New York Times where her career took root and blossomed. In the time some people take to get their own bylines, Quindlen had her own column called "About New York." By 1990, she was The Times's Golden Girl, the only female columnist on its op-ed page, pontificating alongside legends such as William Safire and Russell Baker. In her esoteric opinion columns, Quindlen stitched together the personal and the political in elucidating and sometimes brilliant combinations. By 1992, she had won a Pulitzer Prize for her newspaper writing and had pundits speculating that Quindlen was in line for a deputy editorship.

But although Quindlen had achieved spectacular success in journalism, she wasn't working full-time at what she truly longed to do: write fiction. "I went into newspapers originally to support my fiction habit," she explains. "There's a steady paycheck in reporting, and there simply isn't one in fiction writing." As a result, she ended up leading "a triple life," caring for her three young children (she found time to marry her college sweetheart, lawyer Gerald Krovatin, during her rapid ascent at The Times) and writing fiction when she wasn't busy with her day job.

In the blur between childrearing and newspaper deadlines, Quindlen somehow managed to turn out two bestselling books of fiction, Object Lessons and One True Thing. Confident that fiction was where her future lay, Quindlen decided to quit The Times in 1995 to become a full-time novelist. Quindlen's move paid off when her third book of fiction, Black and Blue—a moving portrayal of domestic violence—received her best reviews yet.

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