First, the accolades:
Three of Tyler’s 23 novels have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and, of them, “Breathing Lessons” won the Pulitzer in 1989. Tyler has won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, the Ambassador Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award and The Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence. Individually, her works have been both long-listed and short-listed for the Man Booker Prize (UK). Tyler’s work is recognized for its exceptional character development, notably its spot-on accurate and highly imaginative details. Her novels have been compared to literary giants Jane Austen, Eudora Welty and John Updike. To date, Anne Tyler has published 23 novels, as well as several short-stories and important critical analysis.
The Making of a Major Talent:
Anne Tyler is the oldest of four children of Quaker parents, an industrial chemist father and social worker mother. The family lived in a succession of Quaker communities finally settling in North Carolina. Having lived here and there for most of her youth, Tyler viewed the “normal” world from a combination of distance and surprise. Understandably so, since at age eleven she had never attended public school. Tyler graduated from high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, at sixteen. She wanted to go to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, a college founded by Quakers. However, she had been offered a full scholarship to Duke University based on the recommendations of her high school teachers, in particular, a very remarkable English teacher, who recognized Tyler’s gift.
At Duke, Tyler majored in Russian Literature. She had not yet determined that she wanted to write. While she excelled in her creative writing class, she loved painting and the arts just as much as she loved literature. Graduating from Duke at nineteen, having been inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa, Tyler’s exceptional scholastic record earned her a fellowship in Slavic studies at Columbia University. Having completed her course work at Columbia, but not having completed her Master’s Thesis, Tyler returned to Duke and a job at the library as a Russian bibliographer. There she met Taghi Modarressi, a fellow writer and a resident in child psychiatry in Duke Medical School. They married a year later, in 1963, when Anne Tyler was 22 years old. She continued to write and publish short stories and began her first novel, “If Morning Ever Comes,” which was published in 1964. Later, Anne would disown that work and her next, “The Tin Can Tree”, believing that she had not yet attained the character development for which she would come to be known.
From 1965 to 1970, Anne settled comfortably into life with Taghi and their two daughters in Baltimore, Maryland where Taghi had taken a position at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The Baltimore area is one of considerable Quaker presence, an influence that was very much a part of Anne’s formative years. So much so that Anne enrolled her daughters in a local Friend’s school. It was during this period that Tyler began writing literary reviews for journals, newspapers well into the late 1980’s. Tyler credits this time of her life as having enriched her spirit, giving her the experience which gave her writing greater depth having come from “more of a self to speak from.”
From 1970-1980, Anne Tyler published three more novels by 1974. Thus began Anne’s prolific period, publishing in rapid succession and gaining all that critical acclaim. John Updike commented on Tyler’s sixth novel “Searching for Caleb,” as not just being good, but being “wickedly good.” Novels followed novels. Acclaim followed acclaim.
Novels by Anne Tyler:
• If Morning Ever Comes (1964)
• The Tin Can Tree (1965)
• A Slipping-Down Life (1970)
• The Clock Winder (1972)
• Celestial Navigation (1974)
• Searching for Caleb (1975)
• Earthly Possessions (1977)
• Morgan’s Passing (1980)
• Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982)
• The Accidental Tourist (1985)
• Breathing Lessons (1988)
• Saint Maybe (1991)
• Ladder of Years (1995)
• A Patchwork Planet (1998)
• Back When We Were Grownups (2001)
• The Amateur Marriage (2004)
• Digging to America (2006)
• Noah’s Compass (2010)
• The Beginner’s Goodbye (2012)
• A Spool of Blue Thread (2015)
• Vinegar Girl (2016)
• Clock Dance (2018)
• Redhead by the Side of the Road (2020)