Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on October 25, 1941, to Phyllis Mahon Tyler, a social worker, and Lloyd Parry Tyler, an industrial chemist. She was the eldest of four children, the only girl. Both of her parents were Quakers dedicated to finding an ideal community, a quest that produced the theme of frustrated idealism in Tyler’s fiction. As a consequence of her parents’ idealism, Tyler spent most of her early years, from infancy until age eleven, in various rural Quaker communes scattered throughout the midwestern and southern United States. When she was six, the family settled in Celo, North Carolina—a large, isolated, valley commune virtually independent of the outside world and unquestionably the setting for Tyler’s short story “Outside,” which appeared in the Southern Review in 1971.
Tyler later wrote of the impact of her early years on her fiction. Unable to sleep at night and needing to amuse herself, she began telling herself stories at age three. Furthermore, her isolation in the rural communes in which she lived as a child contributed to the themes of isolation and community dominant in her novels. Growing up in North Carolina, where she spent summers tying tobacco, Tyler listened carefully to the stories of the tobacco handlers and tenant farmers. Later, she was able to capture the cadences of everyday speech in her fiction, realizing that the stories these workers told could form the basis for literature. She also relied heavily on the North Carolina tobacco country as the setting for her early novels, especially The Tin Can Tree and A Slipping-Down Life.
When Tyler was eleven, she and her family moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, where they finally settled into an “ordinary” middle-class existence. There, Tyler...
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