This Day In Writing History
On August 13th, 1961, the famous American writer Tom Perrotta was born in Garwood, New Jersey. His father was a postman, his mother a secretary.
From an early age, Perrotta was a voracious reader. 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 praised Wolff for his "comic writing and moral seriousness."
During the time he taught 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In 1996, one of Perrotta's unpublished novels, a dark comedy called Election, was optioned for a film by director Alexander Payne.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, pretty, intelligent, but amoral high school girl, is running for president of the student body. She will do anything to win.
Tracy 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. Her current teacher, Jim McCallister - whose best friend was the teacher she 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 star 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 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.
Larry is a 33-year-old ex-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.
Furious that Ronald was allowed to live near children, Larry begins a one-man campaign of harassment and intimidation in order to drive the sex offender out of the neighborhood. Despite his good intentions, his actions once again result in tragedy for innocent people. 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 adapted as an acclaimed 2006 feature film starring Kate Winslet as Sarah, Noah Emmerich as Larry, and in a bravura performance, Jackie Earle Haley as Ronald. Tom Perrotta co-wrote the screenplay with director Todd Field.
Also in 2006, Perotta sold an original screenplay to New Line Cinema that he had co-written with Frasier producer Rob Greenberg. The screenplay, titled Barry and Stan Gone Wild, has been described as "a shameless comedy [about] a 40-something dermatologist who goes on spring break."
Perrotta's next novel, The Abstinence Teacher, was published in October of 2007. Set in suburban New Jersey, it told the story of Ruth Ramsey, a feisty high school sex education teacher who finds herself drawn into a culture war against the local conservatives and evangelical Christians.
Warner Brothers bought the film rights and Perrotta is working on the screenplay. The film will be directed by Lisa Cholodenko, who directed the acclaimed 2010 film, The Kids Are All Right. She is replacing Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who were originally slated to co-direct The Abstinence Teacher.
Tom Perotta's most recent novel, The Leftovers, a work of dystopic science fiction published in 2011, is a compelling, satirical take on the biblical Rapture and the awful but popular Left Behind series of suspense novels by evangelical Christian writers Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.
HBO is producing an upcoming TV series based on The Leftovers starring Justin Theroux, Liv Tyler, Christopher Eccleston, and Ann Dowd.
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
Today's video features a recent interview with Tom Perrotta. Enjoy!