Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on October 25, 1941, the oldest child and only daughter of Lloyd Parry Tyler, a chemist, and Phyllis Mahon Tyler, a social worker, who later became the parents of three boys. During Anne’s childhood, the family moved frequently, living in Quaker communes at various locations in the Midwest and the South and finally settling for five years in the mountains of North Carolina. As the oldest child and only girl in a large, active family, Anne Tyler recognized the feminine capacity for leadership, which is emphasized in many of her novels.
Furthermore, both within the family and within the larger context of the commune, she became aware of the tension between two human needs—one for privacy, solitude, and personal freedom, the other for membership in a group, as a defense against indecision and loneliness. By nature, though warm and sympathetic, Tyler has defined herself as an extremely private person. During childhood, she became aware of the difficulties encountered by people such as herself when groups of which they are members demand their full allegiance.
After graduating at sixteen from a secondary school in Raleigh, Tyler entered Duke University, majoring in Russian. When she picked up the enrollment card for her freshman composition class, she became the first student of a new English teacher, Reynolds Price, who at twenty-five was already a promising novelist, experimenting with new ideas and new narrative techniques. Price recognized Tyler’s talent and helped her with her writing. The importance of this early tutelage, from a novelist whose The Surface of Earth (1975) would later be called by some critics one of the major American novels of the twentieth century, cannot be overestimated. Tyler, however, was not yet ready to commit herself to a writing career. Instead, although she continued to write, she concentrated on her studies in Russian.
In 1961, after only three years, she graduated from Duke with a Phi Beta Kappa key and moved to New York City, where she spent a year taking graduate courses in Russian at Columbia University. The following...
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Although Tyler’s plots may seem as circular as life itself, with her characters often moving back to the places from which they came, the characters are changed by the events through which they have moved. Tyler’s great gift lies in the creation and sympathetic treatment of these characters, who in their interactions produce scenes of comedy and even of farce.
Tyler’s characters and their actions may seem extreme, but the theme that they illustrate rings true. Every human being must try to harmonize such opposites as individuality and conformity, emotion and reason, and energy and restraint. Some of Tyler’s novels suggest that such reconciliation is almost impossible; others indicate that the possibility exists,...
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When Anne Tyler was seven, her parents moved to Celo, a Quaker commune in North Carolina, to raise their family in a quiet, isolated environment. Anne and her two brothers were schooled at home. Tyler became an avid reader, and her favorite book was The Little House (1942) by Virginia Lee Burton. Unable to support the family adequately at Celo, Tyler’s parents moved to Raleigh in 1952, where her father worked as a research chemist, and her mother became a social worker. The Tylers were activists in the Civil Rights movement, opposed the death penalty, and, as Quaker pacifists, opposed U.S. involvement in war. With this background, it is surprising that Tyler’s writing reveals no political or social ideology, other than her portrayal of the family as a basic unit in society.
Tyler attended high school in Raleigh, where Mrs. Peacock, her English teacher, taught literature with a dramatic flair and inspired Anne’s desire to become a writer. At sixteen, she entered Duke University on scholarship, majoring in Russian studies and literature, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1961. At Duke, Professors Reynolds Price and William Blackburn recognized her talent. Eudora Welty’s conversational dialogue, southern settings, and gentle satire also influenced Tyler.
Tyler attended Columbia University but did not finish her master’s degree. While working in the library at Duke University, she met Taghi Modarressi, an Iranian medical student,...
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