Ann Beattie was born in Washington, D.C., on September 8, 1947, the only child of Charlotte Crosby Beattie and James A. Beattie. She attended the Lafayette Elementary School and graduated from high school in Washington, D.C., in 1965. Her father was a grants management specialist for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. If Beattie did not find her early schooling very stimulating, she seems to have been preparing in some fashion for writing even during her childhood. In an interview with Patrick H. Samway, Beattie explained:
I was an only child. . . . It is often true of only children that they become watchers because they belong to small families and are tightly bonded to those units. . . . I am continually squirreling away situations that I don’t consciously realize are registering.
It was in college that she began to take literature seriously. She took a course with Frank Turaj, who, she says, “taught me how to read.” She received a B.A. degree from the American University in 1969 and matriculated as a graduate student in English at the University of Connecticut. It was there that she started submitting stories for publication; she received her master’s degree in 1970. “A Rose for Judy Garland’s Casket” was her first story published, and in the same year, 1972, she withdrew from the doctoral program. Beattie later explained that she was miserable and that she simply decided to write instead of “reading...
Beattie’s stories and novels demonstrate that she is, as she has said she hoped to be seen as, “astute about human behavior.” Her stories about people struggling to make their peace with the world and find contentedness have struck a strong chord with a generation of readers who came of age in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In her novel Picturing Will, she moved beyond her indirect portrayals of alienation to a depiction of a nurturing parent, a universal father.
Born on September 8, 1947, Ann Beattie grew up with television, rock music, and all the other accouterments of the baby boomers. The child of a retired Health, Education, and Welfare Department administrator, Beattie took a B.A. in English at American University in 1969 and completed her M.A. at the University of Connecticut in 1970. She began, but did not complete, work on her Ph.D. In 1972 she was married to, and was later divorced from, David Gates, a writer for Newsweek and a singer. Together they had one son. Before her appointment at Harvard, Beattie taught at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. After living in the Connecticut suburbs and in New York City, she returned to Charlottesville and the university in 1985. She appeared as a waitress in the film version of Chilly Scenes of Winter and, after her divorce, was named one of the most eligible single women in America. In 1985, Beattie met painter Lincoln Perry, whom she later married. The couple lived for a time in Charlottesville. Later, Beattie and Perry settled in a turn-of-the-century farmhouse in York, Maine, one of America’s oldest cities. Beattie says she does not go to book-publishing parties, does not know many writers, has an unlisted phone number, and shies away from writers’ colonies.
The daughter of an administrator in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, James A. Beattie, and Charlotte Beattie (née Crosby), Ann Beattie was born in Washington, D.C., in 1947 and grew up in the city’s suburbs. As a child, she was encouraged to paint, read, and write. An avid scholar, she enrolled at American University in Washington, D.C., in 1966 and received her B.A. only three years later, in 1969. During this short tenure, she edited the university literary journal and was chosen by Mademoiselle magazine to be a guest editor in 1968. After her graduation, Beattie entered the M.A. program at the University of Connecticut as a graduate assistant to study eighteenth century literature. She received her degree in 1970 and began to work toward a doctorate; however, she quickly became frustrated and turned to writing short stories. It was then that—encouraged by her mentor, author John O’Hara&Mdash;she submitted several stories to small-press literary journals. She achieved moderate success with these publications, and in 1974, her story “A Platonic Relationship” was published by The New Yorker. Later that same year, The New Yorker printed two more of Beattie’s short stories, a signal of her arrival in the literary world. She quit the university to concentrate on her writing.
Beattie later served on the faculties of several universities as a writing instructor. In 1972 she married David Gates, a fellow University of Connecticut student; they were divorced in 1980. In 1985, a mutual friend introduced Beattie to the painter Lincoln Perry, a visiting professor at the University of Virginia, where Beattie had taught several years before. They were married in 1988. After several years in Charlottesville, they moved to Maine, where Beattie continues to write.
Born Charlotte Ann Beattie, the only child of a housewife and a government official, Ann Beattie has said that she developed an identity as an “adult-child” who, although dependable and mature, continued to surround herself with toys and called her writing a playtime activity. She has also suggested that as a teenager she suffered from an undiagnosed clinical depression. Her insightful depiction of too-mature children and of depressive personalities can be traced back to her own formative years. Beattie came into her own at American University, where she discovered literature, and went on to graduate work at the University of Connecticut. Finding the graduate program uninspiring, she turned to writing about her own peer group, who grew up in the shadow of the Vietnam War and whose experiments with sexual freedom and drug use produced a flourishing counterculture. Her marriage to the writer and musician David Gates followed a nontraditional route, with no plans for children and with a circle of friends replacing a network of family relations. Beattie’s life and work were peopled at this time by well-educated men and women in their late twenties or early thirties, living in comfortable country houses not too far from Manhattan and possessing the freedom and the funds to fly to Europe or to the West Coast, to break off marriages, blend new families, change jobs, partners, and sexual orientation at the prompting of their own desires, all the while listening to the latest, best music and catching the best new films.
Beattie does not celebrate this life in a vanguard ruled by a new morality. The theme of Beattie’s fiction is that the expectation of a happier life promised by the discoveries and acts of the Woodstock generation did not come to pass. Many of her bleak early stories anticipated the end of her marriage to Gates, whom she divorced in 1980. Beattie moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where she settled with her second husband, the painter Lincoln Perry. While her early stories explored love and loss in a disturbingly unemotional and ironic way, her later work is warmer, more generous, and more optimistic. It is her early fiction, however, with its sense of disappointment and despair, that has supplied her with an identity as the voice of another lost generation.
Ann Beattie (BEE-tee) is perhaps the most imitated short-story writer in America and one of the writers most identified with the minimalist school of fiction. She was born to middle-class parents—her father was an administrator in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare—and she grew up in Washington, D.C. In 1969, she earned a B.A. in English from American University and an M.A. from the University of Connecticut one year later. She began work toward a doctorate at Connecticut but left without completing the program. She was married to and later divorced from David Gates, who would become a writer for Newsweek and an acclaimed novelist. In 1988, she married her second husband, the painter Lincoln Perry. For a time, Beattie taught at Harvard University and the University of Virginia. Generally regarded as literature’s spokesperson for those who came into maturity in the 1960’s, she acknowledges the role that television, rock music, and the drugs often associated with the counterculture play in her work and in the lives of her characters. She resents, however, the tendency to ignore other aspects of her work because of the critical fascination with what critic Joseph Epstein has labeled the “hippoisie.”
Beattie began writing fiction while she was a student at the University of Connecticut, partly, she says, out of boredom with graduate school. While she was still a student, her stories began to appear in small magazines such as the Western Humanities Review and the Texas Quarterly. After making nearly two dozen submissions to The New Yorker, her first story to be accepted there, “A Platonic Relationship,” appeared in the April 8, 1974, issue. From that time on, she has been a regular contributor to the magazine; many of the stories in her collections first appeared there. Beattie’s debut in book form was almost unprecedented, for her first collection of stories, Distortions, and her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, appeared simultaneously in 1976. Most critics, at that time and since, have preferred Beattie’s stories to her novels. Although the characters and situations in Distortions and Chilly Scenes of Winter are more extreme, perhaps, than those in subsequent collections, they are typical of the themes and style associated with Beattie.
These characters are, in most cases, educated, middle-class or upper-middle-class men, women, and children who find themselves disappointed and disillusioned despite having achieved much of what is commonly believed to define the American Dream. They tend to be unhappy in love, in family life, and in their work; if not actually unhappy, they are merely coping and without any feeling of real satisfaction. Friendship is important to the characters and is the refuge they most often seek from the daily lives and family situations that create their conflicts. Charles, the protagonist of Chilly Scenes of Winter, says at one point that he knows too much to be happy, a coda of sorts for a feeling that permeates all of Beattie’s work: The well-educated, self-conscious generation from which she draws her main characters finds bliss, or the happiness of the Norman Rockwell image of family, impossible in view of an overwhelming knowledge. Thus the struggle of the characters becomes one of balancing self-conscious knowledge of self and world with the desire for innocence and joy. In Secrets and Surprises, Beattie’s second collection of stories, the characters tend to be a little older and their struggles more mundane...