One Story is about celebrating the art form of the short story, but it’s also about supporting the writers who write them. Once an author publishes with our magazine, it is often only the beginning of our relationship—we advise writers as they search for agents and aid them as they promote their books, we help them get jobs, we write them recommendations, we cheer them as they rise and we help them when they stumble. Because mentorship is such an important part of One Story’s mission, each year at the Literary Debutante Ball we honor one author who has been extraordinarily supportive of other writers. This year that author is Ann Patchett. With two works of non-fiction and six novels under her belt (the most recent being STATE OF WONDER), Ann recently gave a great gift to writers (and readers!) by opening an independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, in Nashville, TN. But she’ll be coming up to Brooklyn on Friday, April 20th to attend our ball on the arm of her escort, One Story author Patrick Ryan, and accept our 2012 Literary Fairy Godmother Award. Before the big night, Ann was kind enough to answer a few questions about the importance of being generous.
1. You’ve been a great supporter of emerging writers. But who were your mentors and how did they help you along the way?
Allan Gurganus taught me how to write, which was extremely helpful. I tried to follow his example of hard work, though never came close to matching his sense of elegance and style. He was and is a very generous soul. I didn’t match him there either but he taught me a great deal. My favorite piece of Gurganus advice was that I must always steer the ship of my own career and not assume anyone else was looking after things as I would. If my name was on the book then I must agree with every aspect of it. This has been hugely important to me.
2. Any words of advice for our 7 Debutantes as they start their literary careers?
Show kindness whenever possible. Show it to the people in front of you, the people coming up behind you, and the people with whom you are running neck and neck. It will vastly improve the quality of your own life, the lives of others, and the state of the world. And while you’re at it, buy your books at independent bookstores and tell your friends to do the same because if we don’t take the lead, no one else will.
3. You were the editor for Best American Short Stories 2006. Any chance you’ll publish a collection of your own short fiction someday?
I don’t actually write short stories, which means that it’s appalling that I edited Best American Short Stories and even more appalling that I’m being honored by One Story. I’m a short story fraud.
4. What are you looking forward to the most about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 20th?
I may not write short stories, but I’m all about celebrating them. The idea of people dressing up and dancing in the name of fiction is pretty thrilling to me.