Many writers don’t sound to me like they do on paper.  Pulitzer Prize-winner Anna Quindlen is not one of those writers.  Witty and candid, the esteemed author appeared at the 2013 L.A. Times Festival of Books for a conversation….  Just a conversation.  She wasn’t there to shill anything; if she was, she certainly didn’t mention it.  Instead she offered insightful anecdotes and musings on motherhood, affirmative action, and parenting.

Not many writers can sound like Quindlen, however they might try to imitate her.  Even in reporting her witticisms, an incorrect word or misplaced punctuation can wreck the intricacy of Quindlen’s cleverness.

Quindlen said she grew up at a time where there were two options: Be the mother of eight children, or become a nun.  She was hired by the New York Times because of affirmative action, about which she offered that anyone who thinks affirmative action recruits inferior candidates can think of her as one of those second-rate choices.

Quindlen’s daughter once asked her mom if there’s ever been a male secretary of state, shining a pleasant light on the progress the U.S. has made since Anna’s childhood.  But Quindlen says that even though the world has changed, the inequities still are intact.

Quindlen fully admits she was somewhat disdainful of her mother’s life back in the day, thinking, “What does she do all day?” Not until she became a mother herself did she come to appreciate the gift of having a gifted mother.

Quindlen is cognizant of the challenges young people face in entering the work force, especially with older people retiring later in life.  She points out that people blame the economy for their inability to get a job, but asserts that a lack of turnover is complicating the jobs picture.  She considers her own path quite fortunate, graduating from college on Thursday and living in SOHO by Monday.

As far as aging goes, Quindlen said that her travel group — affectionately called the “Thelma and Louises” — have decided that when the time comes, they will all age gracefully in a group member’s home, sitting on the porch and telling each other the great stories they remember.  They just won’t remember that they already told them.

She noted too that one of the Thelma and Louises has chosed for her computer password the word “incorrect,” so that every time she enters the wrong code, well, the computer will brilliantly reveal what it should have been.

On Quindlen’s bucket list?  She wants to see whales up close.

The proud mother of feminist sons, Quindlen likens parenting to fishing: If the line is kept too tight, you’re not going to catch anything.  Unless they stumble, children won’t learn anything, so parents have to be willing to let their children fail.  So Quindlen doesn’t look at homework anymore.  (There was a point when her son told her he didn’t want her to.)  College essays she also steers clear of.  Imagine the pressure if the admissions board assumed  she wrote on behalf of her kids….  Upon receiving frantic calls from her children, Quindlen believes in asking, “What do you want to do?” as opposed to offering advice.

Anna also says that quite often at her speaking engagements she’s asked about balancing family and career … but never from a man.  She says that for men the solution is simply to get married.  Quindlen, currently at work on a novel, is considering writing a non-fiction book on what is fantastic about being female.

The packed and appreciative theater audience agreed that to fill out a book on that subject, Quindlen need look no farther than her own mirror.


–Ken Choy

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