My sister, Heather, first broke the news about my pornography in the middle of last July. She lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where she was able to get her information from a few newspapers, including TheGreenville News and the Spartanburg Herald Journal. My sister doesn’t watch television, but a friend e-mailed her the link and she watched it on her computer. She then sent it on to me.
Interviews: "My Pornography" (July 16, 2007)
Ann Patchett talks about writing, friendship, and defending her work against censorious detractors.
This is the story: Clemson University, located in the button-sized hamlet of Clemson, South Carolina, had assigned the incoming freshman class of 2006 to read Truth & Beauty, a memoir I had written about my friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy. Such reading programs are popular nowadays. The idea is born of the book club, a social activity in which the book is often nothing more than a beard for getting together. Once Oprah took the book club national, entire cities decided to read a single book, high schools and colleges picked one book as a way of bringing students together. Discussion groups are organized, papers are assigned, and then, if all goes well, the author is brought in to give a talk, do a signing, meet and greet.
I know this drill. I have been the all-city read and the freshman read and the radio-book-club read, as both a novelist and a memoirist. It’s good work for an author; lots of books are sold, and an audience that might otherwise never have thought of you starts searching out your backlist. My extensive prior experience with one-book programs, both civic and academic, had been uniformly positive, so when a panel of Clemson administrators and faculty voted to assign Truth & Beauty some 10 months in advance of the engagement, I agreed to attend in late August, marked it on my calendar, and forgot about it.