Despite praise for the truth of her characterizations and her eye for detail, Anne Tyler did not receive much national recognition for her fiction until the publication of her sixth novel, Searching for Caleb, in 1976. Before that time, the largest segment of her audience was in the South, although her short stories appeared in prestigious national magazines throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. All of her novels except A Slipping-Down Life have been published abroad. In addition to English editions, translations into Danish, French, German, Italian, and Swedish have appeared. Still, the American academic and critical communities were slow to appreciate Tyler’s work. Her strong supporters include John Updike, who favorably reviewed her novels for The New Yorker, beginning with Searching for Caleb, and Reynolds Price, Tyler’s professor at Duke University, who also reviewed her work.
In 1976, Tyler began to receive increasing recognition. In 1977, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters cited her as a novelist of excellence and promise. Earthly Possessions and Morgan’s Passing also received largely favorable national reviews. While a few critics, including Updike, expressed some disappointment in Morgan’s Passing, the Writers Workshop of the University of Rochester awarded it the 1980 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for fiction by an American woman.
With the publication of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, her first novel to make the best-seller lists, Tyler at last acquired full national stature. Benjamin DeMott’s front-page notice in The New York Times Book Review pointed to the novel’s wit and the depth of Tyler’s psychological insight and characterizations. DeMott saw the book as clear evidence of Tyler’s having joined the ranks of major novelists. Updike reiterated this praise, citing Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant as a work of considerable power. As a result of this increasing recognition and praise, scholarly studies of Tyler’s work, including her early novels, began to appear. Tyler’s reputation as a major contemporary American novelist was fixed with the publication of The Accidental Tourist, which won the 1985/1986 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. The successful film version of the novel, released in 1988, increased Tyler’s popularity with the reading public. Breathing Lessons was nominated for the National Book Award and won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.