Elizabeth McCracken & Ann Patchett

Elizabeth McCracken & Ann Patchett

Past Event: Monday, January 10, 2000

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Literary Arts

Elizabeth McCracken was born in 1966 and grew up in Boston. She attended Boston University, received a Masters in Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, and earned a Masters of Library Science at Drexel University in 1992. Her first book, Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry (1993), a collection of stories, showcased her sense of humor and talent for creating unforgettable characters. “I believe that most people are extraordinary,” says McCracken. “To me that is one of the pleasures of fiction; getting to know characters in a complex way—in a way that you sometimes don’t get to know mere acquaintances.” In 1996, the literary magazine Granta named McCracken one of the 20 best American novelists under the age of 40. Granta editor Ian Jack described McCracken’s work as “delicate and witty and profound. Wise in the way that a lot of writing isn’t.” That same year her first novel, The Giant’s House, was published. A National Book Award finalist, The Giant’s House is a tender and quirky novel about a lonely librarian’s love for the world’s tallest boy. “I think our lives are constantly transformed by love,” says McCracken. “Not just what we think of as romantic love—love with the person you sleep with. But that our daily lives are constantly shaped by the people we love: our friends, our families.” After working in libraries from the age of 15, McCracken now writes full-time and resides in Somerville, Massachusetts. She met Ann Patchett in 1990 and they have been friends ever since. Elizabeth McCracken’s book of short stories, Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry, was an ALA Notable story collection. She has received grants from the Michener Foundation, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles, but grew up in Nashville. She attended Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied under Russell Banks and Grace Paley. At 21, she burst onto the literary scene when her short story “All Little Colored Children Should Learn to Play Harmonica” was published in the Paris Review. After earning a Masters in Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Patchett taught at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. She then returned to Nashville, where for a year she supported her writing by working as a waitress. “All that time rolling silverware I was thinking about a novel.” The Patron Saint of Liars was published in 1992 and chosen as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Patchett’s subsequent books have enjoyed similar critical and commercial success. Her novel Taft (1994) won the Janet Hedinger Kafka Prize for the best work of fiction in 1994, and her book, The Magician’s Assistant (1998), quickly became a bestseller. In it, Sabine, the widow of a gay magician, discovers his estranged family, and together they begin an unexpected journey of redemption. Of The Magician’s AssistantThe New Yorker wrote, “Her finest novel . . . Patchett’s lush and suspenseful story is also a portrait of America, with its big dreams, vast spaces, and disparate realities lying side by side.” Patchett’s writing has appeared in VogueGQThe Village Voice, and Outside Magazine. She lives in Nashville. Ann Patchett’s honors include the James A. Michener/Copernicus Award and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College.

Excerpt from A Giant’s House (1996), by Elizabeth McCracken
I won’t pretend that I was in love with James right away. He was only a boy, though one I liked quite a bit.

Well, now. Only this far into the story and already I’m lying. Juvenile magazines feature close-up photographs of things that are, like love, impossible to divine close up for the first time: a rose petal, a butterfly’s wing, frost. Once you’re told what they are, you can’t believe you didn’t see it instantly. So yes, I loved James straight off, though I didn’t realize it then. I know that sounds terrible, the sort of thing that makes people think I’m crazy or worse.

But there was nothing scandalous about what I felt for James. I am not a scandalous person. No, that isn’t true either. Given half a chance I am scandalous, later facts bear that out. But life afforded me few opportunities in those days. He was not even a teenager and more than half a foot taller than the average American man. I was more than twice his age and I already loved him.

Excerpt from The Patron Saint of Liars (1992), by Ann Patchett
My mother and I got up and carried the sacks of groceries into the house, quietly past my father. I picked up the pieces of the sugar bowl and swept the floor, and my mother found a new table cloth in the linen closet. We didn’t talk much while we were making dinner. I should have asked her other things about her mother and what had happened, but it was enough for one night.

When dinner was ready I went into the living room and woke my father up and he said he felt better. The three of us sat at the table together and talked about little things, girls who were about to have their babies and my pen pal, Sylvia, in Spain. We talked about the garden my mother wanted to put out this year, and my father said he knew a place that would be perfect and would till up the spoil for her. It was the first time in my life the three of us had had dinner together. Just the three of us, in a house that was ours, and I kept thinking it was the first time things had felt normal. There was my father with his head sewn up and my mother just having told me her life was a joke and I finally felt like things were a little bit normal.

Selected Work

Elizabth McCrackenNiagara Falls All Over Again (2001)The Giant’s House (1996)Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry (1993)

Ann PatchettBel Canto (2001)The Magicians Assistant (1997)The Patron Saint of Liars (1992)Taft (1994)

LinksInterview with Elizabeth McCrackenAnn Patchett’s official web site