Anna Quindlen – Enjoying her new life in Nanaville
Over the last 30 years, Anna Quindlen’s work has appeared in some of America’s most influential newspapers, many of its best-known magazines, and on both fiction and non-fiction bestseller lists.
Before blogs even existed, Anna Quindlen was the go-to writer on the joys and trials of family, motherhood, and modern life, in her nationally syndicated column for the New York Times. Now she’s taking the next step and going full nana in her moving book about being a grandparent. Quindlen offers thoughtful and telling observations about her new role, no longer mother and decision-maker but secondary character and support to the parents of her grandchildren. She writes, “Where I once led, I have to learn to follow.”
Anna Quindlen and Kelly Corrigan talk about the 70’s and the moment you realized you can.
Quindlen started her writing career as a copy girl at the age of 18. She began her journalism career in 1974 as a reporter for the New York Post. She reports loving her time at the New York Post and what a great place a tabloid was for her to begin her career. As an affirmative action hire, she went to work at the New York Times and was there for 13 years leaving in 1995 to become a novelist full-time.
Anna Quindlen was deputy metropolitan editor of the New York Times when she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her op-ed column, “Public and Private.”
She has written seven best-selling novels three of which were made into movies: One True Thing (for which Meryl Streep was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1998), Black and Blue, and Blessings. See all of her books on page ___. She became the first writer ever to have books appear on the fiction, nonfiction, and self-help New York Times Best Seller lists.
Born in Philadelphia, PA, Quindlen is a graduate of Barnard College. She is married to New Jersey Attorney, Gerald Krovatin. They make their home in Manhattan, NY and they have three children. Their sons Quindlen Krovatin (father of her grandchildren) and Christopher Krovatin are published authors, and daughter Maria is an actress, comedian, and writer.
Quindlen was 63 when Arthur (age 4), her first grandchild, was born; She now has a second grandchild, Ivy. Her grandparent name is Nana.
During a recent interview with The New York Times, Ms. Quindlen reported, “I’ve heard any number of people say they don’t feel old enough to be a grandparent. The interesting thing is that our sense of the age of grandparents is completely flawed. Before I wrote this book (Nanaville), if you’d asked me what the median age of a grandparent is in this country, I would have said maybe 65. I would have been off by about 15 years.”
“There’s definitely the sense of the continuation of the line. I look at Arthur sometimes and think, somewhere in there is my mother, who’s been dead now for almost 50 years. This is the closest we get to immortality, right?
“I’d like to be able to say that I saw my children as they were. But the truth is that over and over, I saw them as a reflection of myself.”
“But the other thing I find so powerful, that I didn’t realize until he was born, is that I’d have this profound sense of connection that I had with my own children — but without that ego involvement.”
I’d like to be able to say that I saw my children as they were. But the truth is that over and over, I saw them as a reflection of myself. How does it make me feel about myself that this kid is smart or this kid is flagging? It became self-referential in a way that you knew wasn’t right, but was almost inevitable.
I don’t feel any of that with my grandchildren. I don’t look at Arthur and say, “Oh goody, he’s toilet-trained.” I wish I could have been that way with my kids.”
If you’re an Anna Quindlen fan (and who isn’t?), and a grandparent, you’re going to love her newest book, Nanahood where you’ll learn much more about what she has to say about her new life stage as a grand.
When GRAND got wind of this new book on grandparenting, we reached out to Anna Quindlen. For this interview, she agreed to answer questions by email and, like a good journalist, returned her answers well before the deadline.
GRAND – One True Thing simultaneously broke and healed my heart, after losing my mom when I was 19. It is likely among my top three favorite books of all time. My question is: Does writing a book about losing someone you love, as you did in One True Thing, ease the pain or cause you to relive the loss every time you sit down to write.? It has been said that writers have to write but I imagine sometimes writing is painful. Did this work bring you heartbreak or healing?
ANNA QUINDLEN – Honestly, I’m not sure it did either. Although I know people assume it is deeply autobiographical, Ellen, Kate and George Gulden are so utterly different from me, my mother and my father that that completely changes my orientation to the material. The backdrop, the scenery of mortal illness, owes a great deal to life, but drop a different cast of characters into it and personally it feels quite different, much more like something that’s happening to someone else because in fact, it is.
GRAND – In the movie adaptation, Renee Zellweger played you and Meryl Streep played your mother. Which portrayal was harder to watch? And, as an aside, which actress would play you if a movie about your current life were made? And what would the title of the book/movie be?
ANNA QUINDLEN – Again, Renee plays Ellen and Meryl plays Kate. Having said that, it was much more difficult watching Meryl because the hair and makeup wizards made her look so very ill in a way that was terribly familiar to me. It was also worse than it might have been because she and I are friends, and I never ever want her to look like that—the hair gone, the skin ashen, the eyes sunken—in real life. The title would be Mistakes Were Made. Tina Fey can be me. That would be delightful.
GRAND – Can you believe that 20 years ago, a group of protestors kept you from being the Villanova commencement speaker because they objected to your views on reproductive rights and here we are all these years later at the same place in America? What do you want to say to young women about advocating for their rights?
“I also think the past was a good deal for white men, when they didn’t have to compete with women or people of color for jobs and could count on a hot meal and clean towels without having to lift a finger.”
ANNA QUINDLEN – I can believe it. I can always believe in the willingness of human beings to hanker after some good old days that weren’t. I also think the past was a good deal for white men, when they didn’t have to compete with women or people of color for jobs and could count on a hot meal and clean towels without having to lift a finger. But, you know, we are done with all that. Younger women have to step up now for sure. Gloria Steinem is 85 years old and Anita Hill has done her time, brilliantly. But when I look at Rebecca Traister and Leana Wen and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez I feel hopeful for the future. The full and unapologetic citizenship of women is a genie that can’t be put back in the bottle.
GRAND – It’s been almost 30 years since you penned your first novel, Object Lessons. How has your writing process changed?
ANNA QUINDLEN – I have had the same editor for every book, and I’m at number 20 now. My editor’s name is Kate Medina, and she has become an insistent voice in my head when I’m reading over my first draft. So the biggest difference between then and now is that I have to revise less, not because I am any better but because instead of reading Kate’s edits after the fact I now hear her telling me what to do in real time.
GRAND – You’ve been involved in journalism for most of your life. Can you sum up its current state in one sentence and then sum up where you’d like to see it be in five years?
ANNA QUINDLEN – Big news organizations doing their best work in years, local news getting battered, bruised, and too often put out of business. In five years part one the same, part two rebounding convincingly with community support and engagement. Democracy doesn’t lodge in Washington, but in cities and towns and zoning boards and school boards, and all that requires daily local coverage.
GRAND – Black and Blue changed my thinking on abused women from “why don’t they just leave?” to one of appreciating why they remain in abusive relationships. I literally wept at the end. How do you think the “Me Too” movement has changed how we look at domestic abuse?
ANNA QUINDLEN – I think the attitude toward domestic abuse was changing slowly but surely even before the blessed #MeToo movement began. More women were coming forward, more were being believed. But the crux of the problem is how we raise our children. No boy should believe that he can physically or verbally abuse another person, or that girls and women are less than. No girl should believe that she deserves that sort of treatment, or that it is any possible version of love and devotion. Parents create good people from the ground up. It’s a profound moral responsibility, and it can’t be shirked.
GRAND – You’ve been called a “monster of empathy,” an oxymoron if ever we’ve heard one. Can you describe the challenges and the rewards of being an empath?
ANNA QUINDLEN – I once said in passing to my daughter, “You know, Maria, you’re only as happy as your least happy child.” I will never forget the look of horror on her face, and how she said, “Mommy, is that true?” I do feel the pain and confusion of my kids, and my closest friends, pretty keenly, and sometimes that means lying awake staring at the ceiling. But it’s enormously useful as a novelist. When readers are complimenting one of the books, they most often say, “I fee; as though I really know these people.” And I suspect that’s because, by the time I’m done working on a novel I not only know them, I feel them.
WATCH THE TRAILER OF ANNA QUINDLEN’S – ONE TRUE THING
GRAND – Now that you are experiencing grandparenthood firsthand, will you make grandparent issues the basis of a new novel? For example, grandparents raising grandchildren: Financially strapped, running out of money, can’t afford good health care, skimping on basic necessities, feeling physically, emotionally, and politically isolated, abandoned by family members.
ANNA QUINDLEN – I truly genuflect to people who are raising their own grandchildren, for all the reasons you mention, and for the simple reason that when I’ve spent a couple of days hanging out with mine I am pretty whipped. I do have a grandchild character in the novel I’m working on right now, but not in a scenario you mention. I don’t have a whole lot to add except that I am always amazed at what people will manage to do for the good of their families.
GRAND – As the mother of the “father” of your grandchild, do you have any special advice for other grandparents whose child is not the mother?
ANNA QUINDLEN – Well, there’s certainly a lot of this in Nanaville. I have the best case scenario: a really agreeable and low-drama daughter-in-law who has a real partnership with her husband, my son. But I do like to think I was conscious of boundaries almost from day one. I remember entering that hospital room and being drawn like a magnet to that newborn, then pausing a few feet away and turning to Lynn to ask, “Can I pick him up?” She replied, “of course.” That set a tone, but it also put me on notice: this is not your child, and you’d better be good about asking for permission. Sometimes I meet nanas who believe blood grants permission as a matter of course. That’s foolhardy.
GRAND – What do you think are the top challenges facing today’s grandparents?
ANNA QUINDLEN – The helicopter parents are sometimes challenged by either not being able to be helicopter grandparents, or by trying to do so and being rebuffed. They have opinions about nursing, sleeping, eating, day care, health care, schools. There’s a moment in Nanaville when I’m telling my friend Susan about how my opinion has been ignored, and she says, “Did they ask you?” That is now my mantra. If solicited, respond thoughtfully and kindly. If not, keep your counsel. And I don’t know about anyone else, but the idea that I am some prototype of parenting is pretty ridiculous when I think back to how I winged it, and how often I got it wrong.
Those are the granular challenges, of course. Then there are the more global problems: dealing with divorced parents as a grandparent, concerns about the economy and the education system. I feel an even more urgent need to be a good citizen in order to be a good grandparent. Shame on any Nana who doesn’t vote.
GRAND – Now that you have another really good reason to take good care of yourself (Arthur), can you share what you do to keep fit and in good health?
READ OTHER COVER INTERVIEWS DA – DAN RATHER
ANNA QUINDLEN – I walk really fast, run, or combine the two every morning for an hour, which is not only cardio but cleans out the synapses of the brain and think about the writing time. Sometimes I do it with one of my girlfriends, which is restoring the spirit time. I work out with a trainer three times a week, mainly kettlebells, body weight exercises, and the TRX. I lift heavy, do real pushups and burpees, am generally in better shape at 67 than I was at 27. I also eat healthy and clean most of the time, although I’ve never met a slice of pizza or an ice cream cone that I couldn’t make friends with. I get eight hours sleep most nights. Luck of the draw: no real health problems, nothing that has been replaced by an orthopedic surgeon. When I pick Arthur up at preschool I walk him home 25 city clocks while pushing him in the stroller, then walk back home again. The other night I did a brisk walk for an hour with Ivy in the baby carrier. Breastfed baby—man, that was a workout!
GET A LIFE
The following is from Pulitzer Prize winning author Anna Quindlen’s commencement address to Villanova University, Friday 23 June 2000:
So here is what I wanted to tell you today…
Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast? Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water gap or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and first finger.
Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Kiss your Mom. Hug your Dad. Get a life in which you are generous.
Look around at the azaleas in the suburban neighborhood where you grew up; look at a full moon hanging silver in a black, black sky on a cold night.
And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Once in a while take money you would have spent on beers and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister.
All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough. It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of the azaleas, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the color of our kid’s eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live. I learned to live many years ago.
Something really, really bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had my druthers, it would never have been changed at all. And what I learned from it is what, today, seems to be the hardest lesson of all. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and to try to give some of it back because I believed in it completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned. By telling them this:
Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby’s ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness because if you do you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.
Well, you can learn all those things, out there, if you get a life, a full life, a professional life, yes, but another life, too, a life of love and laughs and a connection to other human beings. Just keep your eyes and ears open. Here you could learn in the classroom. There the classroom is everywhere. The exam comes at the very end. No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office. I found one of my best teachers on the boardwalk at Coney Island maybe 15 years ago. It was December, and I was doing a story about how the homeless survive in the winter months.
He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule; panhandling the boulevard when the summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amidst the Tilt a Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides. But he told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them.
And I asked him why. Why didn’t he go to one of the shelters? Why didn’t he check himself into the hospital for detox? And he just stared out at the ocean and said, “Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view.”
And every day, in some little way, I try to do what he said. I try to look at the view. And that’s the last thing I have to tell you today, words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. You’ll never be disappointed.
Some Of Our Favorite Books By Anna Quindlen