Montclair Literary Festival: Anna Quindlen says ‘Writing is an exercise in confidence’
By GWEN OREL
This year’s Montclair Literary Festival, the sophomore event presented by Succeed2gether, attracted 3,000 people, according to Katrina Browning, MLF’s director of marketing and sponsorship: doubling attendance from last year.
Some of the most popular events were Patti Smith, who closed the festival on Sunday,
March 18; Tom Perrotta; Anna Quindlen; a panel titled “Trump’s War with the Media,” moderated by Jonathan Alter; “Strangers in a Strange Land,” with Min Jin Lee and others; and a discussion on Black Lives Matter, with Pulitzer Prize-winner Wesley Lowery and Jason Williams, Browning said.
Next year’s festival has already been set for Saturday, March 30, 2019.
Anna Quindlen was beginning her book tour for “The Alternate Side” in Montclair this past Saturday. Deborah Davis, who interviewed Quindlen, is the author of eight books herself .
Quindlen, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of “One True Thing” and “Object Lessons,” among others, is a “spirit animal” in Montclair, Davis said to a large crowd at First Congregational Church. Quindlen worked as a journalist for a long time, then seamlessly made a transition into fiction.
The transition wasn’t seamless, Quinclden said. “I always intended to be a fiction writer. I was an inveterate reader,” she said.
She studied fiction writing at Barnard, and when she couldn’t figure out how to pay the rent as a fiction writer, went into journalism. She had been the editor of her high school paper, and said she conned the local paper into giving her a job as a copy girl.
Working as a journalist was “possibly the most thrilling job I ever had. I learned so much about other human beings.” She learned how to write when she didn’t feel like it, and how to “write tight. A lot of good books are 50 or 60 pages too long.”
Davis pointed out that in some ways “The Alternate Side” seems like a fictional version of Quindlen’s memoir, “Lots of candles, plenty of cake.”
“I seem to have the same themes in everything,” Quindlen said. “Identity. Forgiveness. Resurrection. Hello, I’m Catholic.”
She described her process, or her routine for not writing: she gets up early, reading four newspapers, and going for a walk. She doesn’t worry about whether her characters are likable. Ebenezer Scrooge is not likable until the last five pages, after all. Eventually she said, she runs out of stuff to do, and writes from around 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
She usually has a few CDs in rotation for a project: for “The Alternate Side,” she listed to an album by Lorde, by Jack Antonoff, and the soundtrack to “Dear Even Hansen.”
She has three children, and is particularly proud of having raised “two feminist boys.”
“Writing is an exercise in confidence. Maybe I will be the last generation of women to say this... and this is the perfect place to say this,” she said, looking up at the stained glass of the church. “Please God,” she said, let women’s opinions be not only acceptable, but required.