Thursday, April 17, 2014

Meet Donna Tartt

Perhaps you've heard by now that Donna Tartt has won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Goldfinch, her latest bestseller. It's her third novel in as many decades, so even though Tartt isn't a prolific novelist (she doesn't need to be), she's an incredibly gifted one. Even before she stormed onto the literary scene back in 1992 with her first novel, The Secret History, Tartt was already turning heads with her writing. As a freshman at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, her prose garnered the praise of writer-in-residence Willie Morris (My Dog Skip), who remarked to her, "My name is Willie Morris, and I think you're a genius." Perceptive man, that Morris, as The Secret History earned Tartt a phenomenal advance, a bestseller, and a legion of fans. Not too shabby for a first novel. Her second novel, The Little Friend (2002), continued her streak of critical acclaim and proved that she was not a one-hit wonder. As for The Goldfinch, which was described by judges as "a beautifully written coming of age novel . . . that stimulates the mind and touches the heart"? Pulitzer Prize, 'nuff said. 

Tartt makes no apologies for the amount of time she spends crafting her masterpieces. As she puts it, "I would be miserable cranking out a book every three or four years. And if I'm not having fun writing it, people aren't going to have fun reading it. I don't want it to be just some little amusement-park ride. I mean, what's the point of doing that?" She's an artist who wants her readers to lose themselves in the stories and worlds she creates, to experience the sort of immersion one can't really get from the myriad of cookie-cutter and assembly-line novels that often populate the bestsellers lists these days. She likens herself to "a miniaturist--painting a wall-size mural with a brush the size of an eyelash; doing very tiny, detailed work, but over a large space and over a long period of time." An apt description, I must say, and if it works, so be it. After all, ten years isn't too long to wait for a literary masterpiece.

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