Thursday, August 13, 2009

Notes For August 13th, 2009

This Day In Writing History

On August 13th, 1961, the writer Tom Perrotta was born. He was born in Garwood, New Jersey. His father was a postman, his mother a secretary. From an early age, Perrotta was a voracious reader. As he grew up, he devoured the works of authors such as O. Henry, J.R.R. Tolkein, and John Irving, and dreamed of becoming a writer himself.

Perrotta became involved with his high school's literary magazine, Pariah, in which he published several short stories. He earned a Bachelor's degree in English at Yale in 1983, and a Master's in English and Creative Writing at Syracuse University. While at Syracuse, Perrotta was a student of writer Tobias Wolff, best known for his 1989 memoir This Boy's Life, which was made into a feature film. Perrotta later praised Wolff for his "comic writing and moral seriousness."

While teaching creative writing at Yale, Tom Perrotta wrote three novels, all of which he had trouble getting published. In 1994, Perrotta finally published his first book, a short story collection titled Bad Haircut: Stories Of The Seventies. It received good reviews; a Washington Post critic said that it was "more powerful than any other coming-of-age novel." That year, Perrotta left Yale and began teaching expository writing at Harvard.

In 1996, one of Perrotta's unpublished novels, a dark comedy called Election, was optioned for a film by director Alexander Payne. This attracted the attention of publishers, and the novel was released in March of 1998. A year later, the film was released to theaters and critical acclaim. In Election, Tracy Flick, a popular, intelligent, and pretty high school girl, is running in the election for student body president.

Tracy will do anything to win. She projects the perfect image, but she has a dark side. She had an affair with a teacher, and after she told her mother, the teacher's career and marriage were ruined. Tracy's current teacher, Jim McCallister - whose best friend was the teacher Tracy ruined - decides that she doesn't deserve to win the election. A caring teacher who believes in ethics, McAllister doesn't let his lofty ideals stand in the way of his determination to sabotage Tracy's campaign at all costs. He convinces Paul, a popular but dumb athlete, to run against Tracy. In an interesting twist, Paul's disgruntled younger sister Tammy also runs for president - in order to prove that the election is a farce and won't change anything at school. In a rousing speech, Tammy encourages the other students not to vote.

Perotta followed Election with another novel, Joe College (2000), but his next book, Little Children (2004) established him as one of America's best modern novelists. Little Children follows the lives of various people living in a middle class suburban neighborhood. College-educated Sarah wonders how she became one of the vacuous, judgmental housewives who bring their children to the neighborhood park to play. She remembers a lesbian affair she had during college and wonders if she married her husband Jack just to escape a dead-end job and a dead-end life.

After accepting a silly dare from one of her friends, Sarah is drawn into a passionate affair with Todd, a handsome married father whom the women have nicknamed Prom King. Sarah's predicament is nothing compared to that of Larry, a 33-year-old retired cop who left the force after shooting a black kid who was holding a toy gun. Overcome with guilt, Larry sees his chance at atonement when paroled child molester Ronald moves into the neighborhood to live with his mother.

Larry, furious that Ronald was allowed to live near children, begins a one-man campaign of harassment and intimidation in order to drive the sex offender out of the neighborhood. Despite his good intentions, Larry's actions once again result in tragedy for innocent people. And Sarah must face the consequences of her actions as well.

Little Children received rave reviews. The New York Times critic declared Tom Perrotta to be "an American Chekhov whose characters even at their most ridiculous seem blessed and ennobled by a luminous human aura." The novel appeared on numerous "best books of 2004" lists. It was made into an acclaimed 2006 feature film. Perrotta co-wrote the screenplay with director Todd Field.

Tom Perrotta's latest novel, The Abstinence Teacher, was published in 2007. Set in suburban New Jersey, it tells the story of Ruth Ramsey, a feisty high school sex education teacher who finds herself involved in a culture war with the local conservatives and evangelical Christians. Warner Brothers has purchased the movie rights to the novel, and Perrotta is currently working on the screenplay.

Tom Perrotta lives in Belmont, Massachusetts, with his wife, writer Mary Granfield, and their children, Nina and Luke.

Quote Of The Day

"I don't want to become one of those writers that develop a bottomless fascination with their own myth... nor do I see myself writing one great masterpiece. What I'd really love is to be like Graham Greene, and get to 75 and see a whole shelf full of consistently good books, all remarkably similar in length." - Tom Perrotta

Vanguard Video

Today's video features Tom Perrotta talking about writing his latest novel, The Abstinence Teacher. Enjoy!

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