In this forum I have a category called “Celebrity Guests.” Well known musicians, television, stage or movie stars, etc. But increasingly, a growing set of “celebrities” are turning that phrase into something negative….and you know who I mean….rhymes with Dim, Dookie and Embarrass.
Additionally, we have recently hosted very well-known authors, novelists and playwrights here. People who would wince if I called them a celebrity…so let’s start a new category called “Notable Guests” of Hampton Terrace.
And let’s start with the most un-celebrity famous person I have ever met…Ann Beattie. She and her husband, Lincoln Perry, spent a couple of off-season, mid-week days here and we had a chance to converse over breakfast, enjoy a glass of wine in front of the fireplace, and generally spend some leisurely time. She was sincere, humble, self-effacing and as genuine a person as anyone I have ever met.
I cannot say I knew who she was. Not a reader of The New Yorker, or of fiction in general, I have to admit that my WOW occurred when Entertainment Weekly arrived in my mailbox the day after she left and there she was…her new novel Mrs. Nixon featured with a photo, half-page article and a B+. Then I Googled her. WOW again. The New York Times called The New Yorker Stories one of the “Top 10 Books of 2010.”
Here is what I did know: When I checked her in and was giving her a tour around the inn’s common rooms the subject of The University of Virginia came up….mainly because there is a portrait of Mr. Jefferson in my bar. Ann offered that she had been teaching English at UVa since the mid 70s (except for a stint at Harvard). And then she also said her husband, Lincoln, was teaching art at U.Va and was painting the mural in Cabell Hall. I was an art major at Virginia…so the bond was permanent by that point.
She does not typically do readings in places as small as Lenox, but she went to college with the Lenox Bookstore owner, Matt Tannenbaum, and Lenox ended up on her intinerary.
So….just like the time I asked Laura Linney at a picnic….”now, exactly what do you do?,” I kind-of did the same with Ann. I asked her what she was reading that night.
She told me it was somewhat different from her usual fare….short stories and novels. This was a “faux” biography…or a historical fiction…or something else entirely. She did not really know what to call it.
She had the idea to write an autobiography of Pat Nixon…only because Nixon was among the very few modern first ladies who have never written a memoir. In other words, one could only imagine what Pat Nixon thought about her husband, Viet Nam, Watergate, or any number of important events she witnessed first-hand. So Ann Beattie decided to write it for her.
Of course, she first immersed herself in all things Pat Nixon, including checking out Life Magazine photos to see how she dressed and carried herself in public. She admits not to be much of a Richard Nixon fan….which would certainly lead to some interesting suppositions. I told her sincerely that THAT sounded like a book I would want to read.
And then, of course, I went to Google: The website Slate stated by 1980 Ann was “the most famous young fiction writer in America.” She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in the 1990s and has won numerous top awards including the PEN/Malamud Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is the Edgar Allan Poe Professor of Creative Writing at U.Va. Her short stories have populated The New Yorker for decades and found themselves in several collections deemed the best of the century.
So not only am I proud that I was able to host Ann Beattie and Lincoln Perry (more on him in another Notable Guest blog) but she just wrote to me, “…will most certainly see you again and have already told friends about your lovely place – I reviewed it for that travel site and meant every word…”
We will see you soon, Ann.