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23 October 2019

Ann Patchett Q&A: “I wish Al Gore would run for president again“

The author talks the Obama administration, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Charlotte’s Web.

By New Statesman

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles in 1963. In 2002 she was awarded both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for her fourth novel, “Bel Canto”. She is also the co-founder of Parnassus Books, a shop in Nashville, Tennessee.

What’s your earliest memory?

Being in a crib and looking up at a mobile. I’m serious. I have a lot of memories of that crib.

Who are your heroes?

Fern in Charlotte’s Web was my childhood hero. She saved the runt piglet and convinced her parents to let her keep it. She had the power to convince adults, to make them listen to her. I think that’s what every child dreams of. As an adult, I would say Bill and Melinda Gates. I admire people who work to make better lives for others.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

I was dazzled by Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life by Darcey Steinke. It is fierce and smart and full of rage. She looks at women, along with female whales, elephants and gorillas, to see what happens to us as we age.

Which political figure do you look up to?

I’m a big fan of Al Gore. He’s devoted his life to trying to save the planet and I can’t think of anything we need more. I wish Al would run for president again, though I can see how he can probably do more good without a political office.

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What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

I am completely devoid of specialist knowledge.

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In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d be happy to go back to the Obama administration. Maybe I’d live in Montana again.

What TV show could you not live without?

I don’t watch any television. I stopped in my twenties. It’s just not my thing. People are constantly telling me that this is the golden age of television but I don’t see where I’d find the time to pick it up now.

Who would paint your portrait?

My friend Noah Saterstrom, who painted the cover for The Dutch House. In fact, he says he’s going to do it.

What’s your theme tune?

The soundtrack to a 1981 French film called Diva. There’s music in that film to cover every emotion. The walking-around music is my favourite – it’s called “Promenade Sentimentale”.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My father used to always say, “If you don’t want to engage with someone, don’t engage.” I follow it all the time.

What’s currently bugging you?

The Trump administration.

What single thing would improve your life?

A better president.

When were you happiest?

I have to say, I’m pretty happy right now. Now is all we’ve got, right?

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I would make architectural models and dioramas. I enjoy building things.

Are we all doomed?

I suppose it depends on your definition of doomed. Are we all going to die? Absolutely. Are we all going to be miserable? I think not. Is the planet doomed? Ask Al Gore. 

Ann Patchett’s “The Dutch House” is published by Bloomsbury

This article appears in the 23 Oct 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The broken state