Award-winning author Ann Patchett appeared to be as comfortable working the stage of the Montante Cultural Center at Canisius College on Thursday as she is weaving an intricate plot.
Renowned for her literary masterpieces "The Patron Saint of Liars" and "Bel Canto," among others, Patchett was the guest speaker for the college's 10th annual Contemporary Writers Series. After reading a passage from her most recent publication, "Run," Patchett kept it loose and lively, answering questions from the audience and, in the process, sharing her personal views on the art of writing.
"It's a really, really great job. I highly recommend being a writer," Patchett told one aspiring writer.
"People come up to me all the time and they say: 'Oh, you must be so tortured. It must be so hard.' It's a myth put out by writers to keep other people out of the union," she said.
"It's lovely. I work at home. I don't have to get dressed up. The dog is very happy," Patchett added.
"The Patron Saint of Liars," the story of a young wife who contemplates giving up her unborn baby for adoption as she enters a home for unwed mothers in the early 1960s, was Patchett's first book.
She received the Orange Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2002 for her fourth novel "Bel Canto," whose heroine is an opera diva. Patchett said she knew nothing about opera before writing the book, but became immersed in the opera world as she wrote the novel. A consequence of having written it was that she became great friends with real life soprano Renee Fleming. Patchett was even the intermission guest last week at the Metropolitan Opera.
Patchett advises writers "to write copious amounts," read everything and read like a writer. She also insists that there at three important requirements for any aspiring writer. The must have absolute commitment to their craft, technical superiority their craft, and imagination, and in that order Patchett stressed.
"There are all kinds of things you can abandon as soon as you've mastered them, plot being a hugely important one. Plot has kind of weirdly gone out of fashion. It's fine to work without plot, but only if you know it cold, inside and out," she said.
"Anyone who plays an instrument understands that commitment is first, technique is second and imagination is third. Nobody sits down and says I'm going to start improvising on the cello at the beginning. And yet, somehow, in writing we get it completely backwards," Patchett added.
Patchett, who grew up in Nashville, Tenn., and is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, coyly sidestepped an audience member's request to "reflect on the phenomenon of Sarah Palin," but offered a general opinion on art and politics. "There is no such thing as a writer of literary fiction -- and I would hazard to say, very possibly, a person who makes serious art -- who is a Republican," she said.
Asked about her routine as a writer, Patchett confessed to not having one.
"I highly recommend one. I think that everyone should have one. I'm hoping to get one real soon," she said to laughter from the audience.
"I do the best I can. There are days that I write and there are a lot more days that I don't write," she added, noting that she does not unduly stress over having unproductive periods.
"My genius, if I have it, is my ability to forgive myself," Patchett said.