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Notes for Ann Patchett: What to Expect as a McFadden Lecturer

March 14, 2013 by Reader's Connection

PatchettAnn-2Dear Ann Patchett: I’m excited that you’re coming to Indianapolis to deliver this year’s Marian McFadden Lecture–on Friday, April 26th at 7 p.m., at the North Central High School Auditorium–and I thought I should let you know about some of our plans for you.

Bel CantoOr I should say, my plans. The outline here hasn’t been officially approved.

The evening will begin with the presentation of the Fictional Travel Award, which you’ve earned just on the basis of the three novels I’ve read. Bel Canto (2001) sends a bunch of strangers to an unnamed South American country, State of Wonder (2011)  moves from Minnesota to a Brazilian jungle, and The Magician’s Assistant (1997) begins in Los Angeles and travels to perilous Nebraska.

Your second honor will be the Family Re-Envisioned Medallion.

The Magician's Assistant

I read Bel Canto a few years ago, and my calcifying brain can’t remember whether families played a strong part in the story. But in the other two novels, which I’ve just finished, you are adventurous and moving when you look at the ways that families can come together, can be remolded, and can be torn apart.

We don’t want the North Central stage to be cluttered, so the only other trophy will be the Astonishing but Unnoticed Transition Award, for following (in State of Wonder) a horrifying human-vs-wild-animal battle with a scene involving an unexpected pregnancy and a contemplated adoption–the family theme again–and for doing this without any shifting of gears between the “action” scene and the “domestic” scene. The reader is propelled with grace and clarity, and can’t (or I couldn’t) put the book down.

I won’t be mentioning this elsewhere, and you won’t be receiving an award for it, but you’re often funny.

Then comes the lecture. To my knowledge, you are the first McFadden lecturer to be a bookstore owner; and you should feel free to plug Parnassus. (Blog-readers who didn’t know about Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, can click on the picture here and watch Ms. Patchett’s 2012 interview with Stephen Colbert. Apologies if you have to sit through a commercial. And yes, some of the bookstore services Ms. Patchett mentions–story hours and reader’s advisory (what to read next)–are also offered at public libraries. I need both, bookstores and libraries.)

State of Wonder

The rest of the lecture is up to you. In your fiction, you’ve already allowed me the exhilarating, frightening experience of appearing on the Carson show and then, years later, the harrowing experience of watching the show on video. You’ve showered me with a rain of arrows, trapped me as a political hostage with a great opera singer, and, time and again, allowed me to watch the birth of love. That last bit may be misleading about the sort of books you write, but I’ll let it stand.

Whatever you manage to say at North Central, I’m already in your debt. Thanks for coming.

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