Ann Patchett, whose most recent novel was the critically acclaimed and enduring bestseller “Bel Canto,” leads off the Department of English 2003-2004 visiting writers series roster tonight at 5 p.m. in Angell Hall Auditorium B. Patchett will be reading from “Bel Canto,” a tour de force of magical realism, as well as from some of her more recent works; her visit to the University is a fitting beginning to a series which promises to bring some of the most interesting writers working today to this campus.
“Bel Canto” marks the latest large-scale achievement of Patchett, whose sale to the Paris Review of the short story “All Little Colored Children Should Learn to Play Harmonica,” while she was still an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College, foreshadowed her literary success. Patchett also attended the extremely prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop after her graduation.
Before the publication of “Bel Canto” in 2001, Patchett enjoyed a warm critical reception of her first three novels: “The Patron Saint of Liars” was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992); “Taft” (1994) won the Janet Heidinger Kafka prize and “The Magician’s Assistant” (1997) was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. Five years later, “Bel Canto” won Patchett the Orange Prize, the United Kingdom’s largest literary prize awarded to a female author.
In “Bel Canto,” Roxanne Cross, an operatic singer, is performing at the home of a South American vice president for a party with an international guest list. Terrorists take the party hostage, however, and what Patchett describes is an emotional and vivid exploration of the interactions and bonds that form between this unlikely group of people. Patchett’s reading is sure to be the first in an interesting series of visiting writers – and will be worth taking the afternoon off to enjoy.