The writer, Anne Lamott, is a woman of many contradictions. She is a devout Christian with very liberal politics and unusual friendships. She has a crude, cynical sense of humor, yet she is a warm and tender mother to Sam. She is an ex-drug addict and alcoholic who has a black sense of humor about death. Lamott rarely takes one side without exploring the attractions of the other. This is particularly evident in her interactions with a ruthless student who lashes out at another student in class. Though Lamott feels the criticism was too harsh, she also recognizes that the student was brave in her honesty. The ability to see all sides of the issue makes Lamott approachable and likeable.

Lamott has made a career of delving deep into her inner feelings and personal tragedies and transforming her response to them into books and essays. Bird by Bird typifies her approach. Throughout the book, Lamott talks about faith, creativity, and community as ways to deal with the dark side of life. Far from being a stereotypically isolated writer, Lamott has many unusual, often eccentric friends. Most of these friends are fellow writers or fellow churchgoers. Though she refers to her many close friendships, she never mentions whether she was married, or if she has any kind of relationship with Sam’s father. Lamott believes herself to be a strange creature, and it is through her writing that she establishes identity and community. When her writing fails her, she turns to faith; when her faith is shaken, she turns back to her writing.

The child of a successful writer, Lamott was encouraged to be creative at a very early age. She dislikes authority and feels confined by ordinary life. Though she finds her niche in college with socialists and hippies, she drops out to pursue a more informal kind of education. She notes that she, like her father, is essentially “unemployable.” Even the publishing world, with its temptations and obligations, proves too restrictive for Lamott. She values the creative art of writing over the business of publishing. The only authority she seems comfortable with is the church. Lamott values individuality and freedom and finds these traits attractive in others.