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Anne Lamott was born in 1954 in San Francisco
and raised in the wealthy suburbs of Marin County. Her father was
a noted novelist, and Lamott and her brothers grew up in relative
comfort. In 1972, she matriculated at Goucher College, but she dropped out
in 1973 to pursue a career as a writer. She endured a series of failed
relationships, as well as troubles with drugs, alcohol, and bulimia.
She struggled with these issues for many years before finally conquering
Lamott says she has written since early childhood, but
her career as a professional writer began only when her father was
stricken with brain cancer in 1975. During this time, Lamott began
work on a novel about a woman dealing with her father’s brain cancer
and her dysfunctional family. The somewhat autobiographical book was
entitled Hard Laughter. It was published in 1980
to largely positive reviews.
After the release of Hard Laughter, Lamott’s
career as a writer blossomed. She now writes both fiction and nonfiction.
In addition to Bird by Bird (1994), her best-known
work, she is the author of Rosie (1983), Joe
Jones (1985), All the New People (1989), Operating
Instructions: The Journal of My Son’s First Year (1993), Crooked
Little Heart (1997), Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts
on Faith (1999) and Blue Shoe (2002).
She was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985. She has also
done considerable magazine work, including stints as book reviewer
for Mademoiselle and restaurant critic for California
Magazine. Currently she is a commentator for NPR and writes
columns for Salon.com. She has also taught creative writing at writing
conferences and several universities, including the University of
California at Davis.
Lamott writes almost exclusively about personal issues,
such as her battle with drugs and substance abuse. She has been
sober since the late 1980s. The effects of her alcoholism on family
and friends is a recurring theme in many of her novels, including Rosie and Crooked
In her writing, Lamott makes frequent references to her
devout Christianity. She can’t remember exactly when she became
a practicing Christian, but she estimates that it was in the late
1970s, when she was struggling to beat her addiction to drugs and
alcohol. She reveals her religious beliefs in Operating
Instructions, and Blue Shoe features her
first Christian protagonist. These days, Lamott rarely gives a speech
without mentioning God or Jesus. However, Lamott does not fit the
stereotypical profile of a white religious fundamentalist. She attends
a largely African-American church, and she is politically liberal.
She is pro-choice and advocates gay rights. Her beliefs have endeared
her to many nontraditional Christians while enraging more conservative
ones. (She received hate mail for her scathing critique of Pat Robertson’s
fiction.) Her religious beliefs show up in most of her work, but
they are tempered with an easygoing and liberal spirit.
Lamott’s writing runs the gamut from freethinking spirituality
to darker commentaries on death and illness. Her novels are filled
with messy, unfinished people who act impulsively and create chaos
in their lives. A similar recklessness also pervades her nonfiction. Bird by
Bird, a commentary on Lamott’s beliefs about writing as
well as a biographical account of her own career, has been Lamott’s
most popular work. While some critics find her use of profanity
off-putting, and others accuse her of being self-absorbed and emotionally unpredictable,
readers respond to her humorous yet emotional account of the trials
and tribulations of a writer’s life.
In Bird by Bird, Lamott draws on her
own personal relationships and often quotes friends and fellow writers
at length. Lamott’s books suggest that writing is a cathartic way
of dealing with life’s troubles and problems. Fans of Bird
by Bird are both aspiring writers and nonwriters moved
by Lamott’s uniquely conversational style and unsparing wit.
Currently, Lamott and her thirteen-year-old son Sam (who
is frequently mentioned in Bird by Bird) live in
Fairfax, California. Lamott continues to teach and to write magazine
articles and books.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bird by Bird!