Quite a Story
Nanaville author Anna Quindlen leaves the drama on the page.
by Bill Donahue

Anna Quindlen parlayed a skill she developed in childhood—telling extravagant stories—into a lasting, far-reaching career as a novelist. So far, she has nine novels under her belt, though her bibliography also includes numerous works of nonfiction, including a 2012 memoir called Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, which climbed to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. She even has a Pulitzer Prize to her credit, earned in 1992 for distinguished commentary while penning columns for the Times.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in the suburb of Drexel Hill, Quindlen suggests she had a very happy childhood—“my greatest shortcoming as a writer.”
“I walked to school and to the houses of all my friends, which tended to be those kind of rambling older center hall colonials that I’m still partial to,” she says. “Lots of rhododendrons and azaleas, old-growth trees, the kind of place in which it seemed nothing bad could ever happen.” 
Although she no longer lives in the Greater Philadelphia Area, she’s a frequent visitor. In fact, as part of this year’s Bucks County Book Festival, to be held in Doylestown on Oct. 12 and 13, Quindlen will be the keynote speaker at a ticketed event on Saturday evening at Salem United Church of Christ. 
We spoke with her about the upcoming festival, as well as her skills as an “inveterate liar,” and her newest book Nanaville, in which she explores the adventurous terrain known as grandparenting. 

Nanaville has the subtitle Adventures in Grandparenting. In what ways has grandparenting been “adventurous”? 
Well, for one thing, there are constant surprises because you’re usually not doing it in real time the way parents do. I see [my grandchildren] Arthur and Ivy a lot, but not usually every day, so all those micro ways in which a toddler and a baby change in a very short period of time are exciting. And all the rest is an adventure, too: seeing what kind of father your son has turned out to be, rediscovering the books and games you used with him and his sibs and are now using with his kids. The rediscovery is in many ways as big an adventure as the initial discovery was: Wow, I had completely forgotten about that.  

A lot of people want to write, want to become “writers” for a living, but very few do. What about your voice, your experiences, and the things you have to say have enabled you to do so? 
I honestly have no idea. From a very young age I had a high comfort level with telling elaborate stories. In other words, I was an inveterate liar. No brag, just fact. I was also pretty comfortable with words on the page. But in most ways that matter I’m very average, and in some ways I think that has been my ace in the hole, given the number of readers who have said to me, “What you wrote is exactly what I think.”  

Did growing up in Philadelphia inform or stoke your desire to become a writer?  
I’m not sure it was Philadelphia exactly, but my Philadelphia family, which on my father’s side was large and Irish Catholic. People have asked whether there were writers in my family, and the literal answer is no. But there was a lot of storytelling, much of it embellished as the story was told and retold, and there’s no question that that influenced me.  

You’re going to headline the second Bucks County Book Festival. These days it’s difficult to earn a living as a published author without engaging readers, directly and through social media. Do you enjoy those interactions? 
I don’t really have any social media interactions. Don’t tweet, have no Instagram account. … But when I do a book signing, or an event like the book festival, I really like meeting readers. Writing a book is a pretty lonely pursuit: me, two Labradors on the floor, my laptop, a coffee cup. You always wonder whether anyone is going to care about what you’re producing. So to meet people who actually read your work is thrilling.  

What’s next for you, in your publishing work and otherwise?
I’m working on a new novel, and I’m going to do a nonfiction book on writing—not writing for people who want to be writers but writing as a way of making sense of our lives and leaving a legacy for those we love in this crazy hyper digital age. I spend as much time as I can with my two grandchildren and my kids. Most of the fiction writers I know try to live really humdrum lives to leave the drama on the page, and I’m no exception. Quiet, orderly, very fulfilling. Caffeinated.  
Photograph by Maria Krovatin

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, August 2019.