At 25, Ann Patchett “escaped” her brief first marriage, gave up the teaching job she shared with her husband at a small college in Pennsylvania, and returned to live with her mother in Nashville, Tenn. The aspiring writer had appeared to follow a script: She studied with distinguished writers Grace Paley and Russell Banks in college, published an article in the Paris Review before graduating, and honed her craft within the best writing program in the country. Suddenly, she found herself serving tables at TGIFriday, serving fajitas to former classmates and wearing an obligatory “fun hat”.
“It was a time when almost nothing came easily,” remembers Patchett, 57, over the phone from her Nashville home, where she lives with her husband, Karl, and a charismatic mutt named Sparky. She remembers wondering if she should move on to a more stable career. Maybe she could become a dental hygienist, as her father relentlessly urged? But instead she decided it was okay to spend the rest of her life balancing platters of cheeseburgers in her arm while she still had time to write. “It was all I wanted to do,” she says. “It wasn’t that I wanted to be a writer, it was that I wanted to write.”