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Donna Tartt Bio

Donna Tartt is a novelist, essayist and critic. Her first novel, "The Secret History", was a bestseller and has been published in twenty-three languages. "The Little Friend", was published October 2003. "The Little Friend" won the WHSmith Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. "The Goldfinch: A Novel", was published October 22, 2013 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction In 2014.


  • Born – December 23
  • Birthplace – Greenwood, Mississippi
  • Mother – Taylor Tartt
  • Father – Don Tartt
  • Siblings – 1 younger Sister
  • Raised – Grenada, Mississippi


  • Wrote First Poem – Age 5


  • Published First Sonnet – Age 13, Mississippi Literary Review


  • Enters college at University of Mississippi, Oxford
  • Famous First words from Ole Miss Writer-in-Residence, Willie Morris, to Donna Tartt:
    "My name is Willie Morris, and I think You're a genius."
  • Willie Morris recommends Donna Tartt to Barry Hannah (Ole Miss Writer-in-Residence) for his graduate-level short story course
  • Barry Hannah says she outperforms the graduate students


  • Barry Hannah and Willie Morris encourage Donna to transfer to Bennington College, a small liberal arts college in Vermont
  • Donna meets the writers Bret Easton Ellis and Jill Eisenstadt


  • Donna begins writing "The God of Illusion", which eventually is retitled – "The Secret History" during her second year at Bennington College


  • Donna graduates from Bennington College


  • Ellis recommends Donna to the famous ICM literary agent, Amanda "Binky" Urban
  • "The Secret History" was three-quarters done; she had an outline for the rest
  • Urban accepts her as an unsigned client.


  • Two years later, Urban starts a bidding war for the 866 page manuscript
  • Knopf wins – paying $450,000 for rights (which it made back almost immediately, and then again, in foreign sales)


  • Knopf orders 75,000 for first printing. (The usual for a first novel is 10,000.)
  • Storm of publicity surrounding Donna Tartt and her first novel. She is a celebrity before it has a chance to hit the shelves
  • Knopf has to order additional printings to keep up with demand
  • "The Secret History" is on the Publishers Weekly Bestseller List for 13 weeks. It reaches as high as #2
  • Movie rights to "The Secret History" sold to the late Alan J. Pakula


  • Second Novel: tenetively titled, "Tribulation"
  • Residence: New York
  • Pets: 3 Dogs
  • Relationship Status: Boyfriend


  • Publication of "The Little Friend", October 2002


  • WH Smith Literary Award – "The Little Friend"
  • Orange Prize for Fiction shortlist – "The Little Friend"


  • Publication of "The Goldfinch: A Novel", October 22, 2013
  • National Book Critics Circle Award (fiction) shortlist – "The Goldfinch"


  • Pulitzer Prize for fiction – "The Goldfinch"
  • Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist – "The Goldfinch"
  • Time 100 Most Influential People
  • Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence for Fiction – "The Goldfinch"
  • Vanity Fair International Best Dressed List
  • Malaparte Prize (Italy) – "The Goldfinch"

Donna Tartt Quotes

She writes by hand, making notes in red and blue pencil, stapling note cards to the pages and when the notebooks start to fall apart she prints out drafts, and each new draft is printed on a corresponding shade of paper. Interview: The very, very private life of Ms Donna Tartt". independent. November 24, 2013
her fascinating pronouncements ('My life is like Candide' or 'I'm the exact same size as Lolita' ['ninety pounds is all she weighs/with a height of sixty inches']), her chaste aura of another era ('Je ne vais jamais me marier', she once said, winsomely). Katharine Viner, October 19, 2002. "Interview: Donna Tartt". The Guardian
"The Goldfinch author Donna Tartt: 'If I'm not working, I'm not happy'". Gulf News
"I can't write quickly. If I could write a book a year and maintain the same quality I'd be happy. I'd love to write a book a year but I don't think I'd have any fans." Donna Tartt, BBC
"In public, and whenever I have been asked about it through my career, I have denied that the character of Julian Morrow is based on the Claude Fredericks I knew and loved—except in the most superficial respects. To me, this confusion is both tragic and unfair to the memory of Claude. As a student at Bennington, I was struck by how students and literature faculty alike loved to gossip and spin tales and embroider anecdotes and invent rumors about Claude that invariably cast him as a sinister, ridiculously wealthy, and larger-than-life personage that he was not, a tradition that unfortunately, and insidiously, persists. It was these erroneous and larger-than-life fictions that caught my imagination as a young writer and went into the formation of the fictional character of Julian Morrow rather than the kind and generous person of Claude himself, and when the novel was published, in 1992, I was horrified when journalists in Europe and America presumed to state flatly that the character of Julian Morrow was Claude, treating their surmise as established truth, a problem that continues to this day. But unfortunately, now as then, people prefer to see fiction as fact." Donna Tartt, New Yorker, November 1, 2021
Her father Don was a wild card — an erstwhile rockabilly musician turned politician; her mother, a Southern belle, who Tartt says was 'not particularly interested' in small children. Tartt and her sister spent much of their childhood running in and out of the houses of elderly aunts and grandparents. Mick Brown
Donna Tartt says she writes the kind of old-fashioned novels that suit her taste. "Luckily, other people seem to like them, too". In fact, her publisher is pulling out all the stops, even providing her with a makeup artist for photo sessions - an almost unheard of rarity on the book promotion circuit. We meet not far from her Upper East Side apartment (she also owns a country place in Virginia). Dan Cryer, November 4, 2002. "Her Own Twist. Newsday
"Would you like a Coca-Cola, young lady?" he asked me on that first night, interrupting himself in the middle of a story, when his old pal, Clyde, the bartender came around to take our order at the bar of the Holiday Inn. "No, sir, I believe I'll have what you're drinking" Donna Tartt - "My friend, my mentor, my inspiration". Remembering Willie. University Press of Mississippi
She sent some short stories to the local paper. A journalist passed them on to Willie Morris, an influential member of the literati and writer-in-residence at Ole Miss. He tracked her down at the bar of the Holiday Inn. "Are you Donna Tartt?" Yes, she was. "My name is Willie Morris, and I think you're a genius." Peter Ross, November 2002. "Donna Tartt". Sunday Herald
"I think I got in on a short story I sent in. Nobody I know would have been there if they had required SAT scores." Lili Anolik, May 28, 2019. "Money, Madness, Cocaine and Literary Genius: An Oral History of the 1980s' Most Decadent College". Esquire
(b. circa 1964) Diminutive novelist whose debut, "The Secret History" (1992), garnered as much attention for its advance (with foreign rights, an estimated $950,000) as for its literary merits. (Such was the promotional effort and media attention bestowed upon Tartt that Newsweek ran a story called "Anatomy of a Hype.") Bennington College, where Tartt was a classmate of early bloomer Brett Easton Ellis, served as the unnamed Northeast campus for this collegiate gothic steeped in classicist mumbo-jumbo. Ostensibly about a cliquish murder among Greek scholars--Lord of the Flies interleaved with The Bacchae--Secret History was really a case study in stultifying pretension, with occasional moments of genuine emotion buried under layers of gratuitous allusion and stilted dialogue. While working on her second novel, Tartt published several pieces of writing, including an essay on basketball in a sports writing collection and a short story in The New Yorker. AltCulture

Author of "The Secret History" and "The Little Friend"
  • She was born in 1963 and attended the University of Mississippi from where she transferred to Bennington College in Vermont.
  • Tartt's classmates at Bennington College included the writers Bret Easton Ellis and Jill Eisenstadt. It was Ellis who introduced Tartt to his agent, Amanda "Binky" Urban; and it was Urban who started a bidding war for "The Secret History" that scored Tartt a reported $450,000 advance.
  • After History's success, she bought a 120-acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia with an original 1820s farmhouse to get away from the summer heat of her Manhattan apartment.
  • She spends most of her time at home in Virginia, but has travelled extensively in Nepal, Japan, Africa and India.
  • With New York sweltering in a record-breaking heat wave, I make my way to a small French restaurant on the Upper East Side to meet her. Tartt has an apartment nearby (having moved from Greenwich Village), but actually spends most of her time writing at her house "in the country". Persistent questioning narrows this down to the state of Virginia.
  • But here she is, 10 years later, sitting in a wonderful New York restaurant, fizzy and funny and talking about her new novel, "The Little Friend", which shares with "The Secret History" the theme of a dark incident shaping a life but which in execution is southern and languorous and female and wholly different from its taut, masculine, east coast predecessor.
  • Current Project: "A novel I don't want to talk about."
Tartt's classmates at Bennington College included the writers Bret Easton Ellis and Jill Eisenstadt. It was Ellis who introduced Tartt to his agent, Amanda "Binky" Urban; and it was Urban who started a bidding war for "The Secret History" that scored Tartt a reported $450,000 advance.

Southern writer Willie Morris was a mentor for Tartt at University of Mississippi, where she spent her freshman year. Morris, who had read some stories of Tartt's, introduced himself and told her, "I think you're a genius." He got her enrolled in a graduate writing seminar, and later encouraged her to transfer to Bennington.

Drawing on their college days, when Tartt would hold alcoholic "teas" in her dorm room, Ellis called his classmate "the only person I know who could drink me under the table" in a 1992 Vanity Fair article. Perhaps Tartt's stamina had something to do with her early "medicine" for the frequent illnesses caused by tonsils that were overdue for removal. Presiding as her nurse, Tartt's great-grandfather gave her regular doses of whiskey and cough syrup containing codeine. "Between the fever and the whiskey and the codeine," wrote Tartt in a Harper's essay, "I spent nearly two years of my childhood submerged in a pretty powerfully altered state of consciousness."

Signed first editions of "The Secret History" now run around $100.

Film rights to "The Secret History" were sold to director Alan Pakula; but Pakula died in 1998, and the project languished until Gwyneth Paltrow expressed interest. The film is now reportedly in production at Miramax under the actress, with Paltrow's brother Jake set to direct.

The haunting 800-page saga, sold to the British publisher Bloomsbury for just under £s;1 million, is due to appear first in bookshops in the Netherlands in September. As word of this filters out to fans over the internet, secret plans are being laid to ship out early Dutch copies as collectors' items, and to arrange for high-speed translations into English. The level of interest may even lead to a short-lived black market. Vanessa Thorpe July 28, 2002. "The secret history of Donna Tartt's new novel". The Guardian.

If you think Donna Tartt is getting a rush of media attention in this country, you should visit Holland. The Dutch are mad about Tartt, author of the 1992 publishing sensation "The Secret History". Her second novel, "The Little Friend", sold 150,000 copies in its first week there. She is the Jerry Lewis of the Netherlands. Chauncey Mabe (November 10, 2002). "Tartt, A Dutch Treat, Stirs A Storm At Home". Sun-Sentinel. February 1, 2021

Donna Tartt
Since Donna Tartt appeared on the cover of the November/December 2002 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine ("Murder in Mind" by Therese Eiben), she received the WH Smith Book Award for her second novel "The Little Friend" (Knopf, November 2002). Tartt received £5,000 (approximately $8,300). News of her winning the award came in mid-March, the day after she was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, an annual award honoring a novel by a woman written in English and published in the UK. (Valerie Martin won for Property). Bloomsbury, the UK publisher of "The Little Friend", won the Expert Books Marketing Campaign of the Year at the British Book Awards. "The Little Friend" was published in paperback by Vintage Books in October.

Here's a little tip from Tartt: Slip the voice of experience into your favorite books.

Getting Into Character
The New York Times Magazine, October 29, 1995

(8 writers dress up for Halloween. Donna Tartt goes at Joan of Arc.)
Donna Tartt on Joan of Arc: "She has inspired artists from Mark Twain to Martha Graham, from George Bernard Shaw to Leonard Cohen, from Verdi to Schiller to Cecil B. DeMille, but the stark, historical facts of her life are more remarkable than any fiction."

A Legend In Her Own Lunchtime

3 A.M. Magazine, November 25, 2002
Boyd Tonkin on Donna Tartt in The Independent:

". . . Youthful acclaim can block, rather than boost, creative energies. The author of The Great Gatsby -- which was published when he was 28 -- knew that hard truth more bitterly than most. In 1992, another 28-year-old novelist, Donna Tartt, spellbound an equally affluent, equally troubled generation with her debut, "The Secret History". Its succulent, calorific blend of Greek orgies, Gothic romance and artful campus comedy helped dig the grave of literary minimalism. . . . The book sparked a bidding war among publishers, spent 13 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has sold millions of copies. . . . After this greedily devoured debut came a decade of rumour, and silence, and waiting. . . . But soon the pregnant pause that started when the senior Bush occupied the White House will end. This October, Donna Tartt returns with her second novel, "The Little Friend". Ominously, its title as an extended work in progress was 'Tribulation'. . . . At least Tartt has made it to this second hurdle. The story of modern American literature is littered with promising names who fell after the first. . . .

. . . Born in 1963, Donna Tartt is the daughter of a local politician, descended from archetypal Southern stock (her mother's family name is Boushé). .

. . Aged 13, she published her first poem: a sonnet in a Mississippi magazine. After leaving school she attended the University of Mississippi - 'Ole Miss' in Oxford, the town where William Faulkner transformed Southern fiction. There the Tartt myth started to take shape. The campus writer in residence saw some work and introduced himself: 'My name is Willie Morris and I think you're a genius'. . . . Acclaimed by Morris and the other writer on campus, Barry Hannah, Tartt moved on to develop her precocious skills at Bennington College in Vermont. It's here, amid the northern woods and snows, that the heady cocktail of high art, low hype and coterie self-promotion that marks the cult of "The Secret History" really begins to mix. At Bennington she met other apprentice authors: Jonathen Lethem, Jill Eisenstadt, Bret Easton Ellis. She blind-dated the latter after the pair swapped manuscripts: a chunk of "The Secret History" from her, the first chapter of Less then Zero from him. . . . Green-eyed, petite, smartly but androgynously dressed, Tartt read Nietzsche alone in the refectory and cultivated an air of erudite self-possession. This legend in her own lunchtime, and the plot of her novel, appeared in Ellis's second novel -- The Rules of Attraction -- even before "The Secret History" had gone to the printers. She graduated in 1986 and hooked up a couple of years later with the ICM agency in New York, better known for its showbiz stars. . . . An initial 75,000 print run (enormous by first-novel standards) propelled Tartt on to a national and international round of teasing interviews and public appearances. On this circuit she dazzled many with her confidence -- and dismayed a few with her conceit. Now living in Greenwich Village, the arch, exotic classicist -- a bona fide smoker and drinker, and a dedicated dog-lover - cut a special dash on a scene increasingly peopled by the sort of new-wave Puritan author who would send back a mineral water if it tasted a tad too rich. Then, almost as fast as she had arrived, Donna Tartt disappeared. Or rather, she chose not to play the media games that keep novelists in the public eye between books. Among the varieties of US literary recluse, Tartt ranks more with the Thomas Pynchons (the type that just gets on with life and stays out of sight) than with the rifle-toting, fence-patrolling, writ-throwing species that is exemplified by JD Salinger. . . ."|In 1992, another 28-year-old novelist, Donna Tartt, spellbound an equally affluent, equally troubled generation with her debut, "The Secret History".

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Does anybody know Ms. Tartt's address? I wrote her a letter and would really like to send it.

REPLY: Regarding Donna Tartt. Generally when fans wish to contact the author, one locates the current address of the Publisher and mails the stamped letter, in a larger envelope with a shote note asking to have them forward it to the author. She is amazing, isn't she?