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Donna Tartt Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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  • Where does Donna Tartt get ideas from?

    Everywhere — from travel, from history, from gossip, from true crime, from stories in magazines at the dentist’s office, from childhood memories, from rumors and songs, from dreams (I mean this literally — I keep a dream journal, and dreams often make their way into my books). I think the assumption is that novelists get some giant idea all in one piece, and then all they have to do is sit down and write it. And that may be true for some novelists but for me a book is a storm, a swarm, a party. Ideas don’t drop down on me singly, in monumental chunks, but flow in from thousands of different sources and tributaries evolving over a long period of time, and I think the texture of my books reflects that.
    Donna Tartt answers 11 questions about 'The Secret History'. (2022, December 20). Elena Nicolaou. Today.

  • When was Donna Tartt born?

    Donna Tartt was born December 23, 1963 in Greenwood, Mississippi.

  • Does Donna Tartt have a partner?

    Neal Guma worked in several top-notch New York galleries (including an internship at the John Good gallery in Soho while a student at Bennington College) prior to his move to Charlottesville in 1997 when he and his partner, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Donna Tartt, purchased a farm an hour south of town.
    Arresting Images, Neal Guma Fine Art opens in Charlottesville. (2016, December 19). Virginia Living.

    She is unmarried. 'My idea of hell is a crowded and oppressive domestic life. Some people love that. It's absolutely my worst nightmare.'
    Donna Tartt: 'If I'm not working, I'm not happy'. (2013, December 09). Mick Brown.

    I ask, musingly, if she ever intends to settle down and have a family. She shakes her head firmly. 'Je ne vais jamais me marier,' she says.
    Smart Tartt. (2014, June 2). James Kaplan. Vanity Fair.

  • Does Donna Tartt have children?

    (For the record, she is unmarried, has no children, and divides her time between Manhattan and the Virginia countryside.)
    Writer Brings in the World While She Keeps It at Bay. (2013, Oct. 20). New York Times.

    PAULA POWERS: I met Donna through Jonathan that first week. She told this story about being forced to go to home-economics class at Ole Miss. All the girls had to go around the room and say how many children they wanted. When it got to Donna, she said, 'Well, I don't really want to have a baby.' And there was this long silence, and the teacher looked at her and said, 'Now, Donna, every woman wants to have a baby.'
    The Secret Oral History of Bennington: The 1980s' Most Decadent College. (2019, May 28). Esquire Magazine.

  • How does Donna Tartt make money?

    Donna Tartt makes money through the sale of her books, which have been critically acclaimed and commercially successful.

    Donna Tartt's 'The Goldfinch' is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed novels in recent memory, and this week it's finally available in paperback (Back Bay, $20). Published in 2013, the story of a boy who loses his mother and steals a famous Dutch painting during a terrorist attack won a Pulitzer Prize and has sold 3 million copies (including e-copies).
    Publishers typically don't bring out a paperback edition until the more lucrative hardback starts to flag. The long wait for this week's paperback release – more than 17 months – is a striking indication of just how strong sales of 'The Goldfinch' have been. But with so many copies already purchased and such wall-to-wall publicity about the novel, are there many potential readers left to buy the paperback, which will have a first printing of 275,000?

    'The Goldfinch' paperback finally arrives, but who's left to read it?. (2015, April 6). Ron Charles. Washington Post.

    Her book, The Secret History (Knopf, $23, 523 pp.), earned her an advance of $450,000; paperback rights went for another $1 million.
    Tartt's content it took Donna Tartt nine (ed: actually, it was 8 years) years to write her first novel, 'The Secret History'. It took a week for it to become a best seller, and a national sensation. (1992, Sep 27). Chauncey Mabe and Book Editor. South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

    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.
    Tartt, A Dutch Treat, Stirs A Storm At Home. (2021, February 1). Chauncey Mabe. Sun-Sentinel.

    The haunting 800-page saga, sold to the British publisher Bloomsbury for just under £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.
    The secret history of Donna Tartt's new novel. (2002, July 28). Vanessa Thorpe. The Guardian.

    Otherwise, she expects her newfound wealth and fame to have little effect on her life. She has an apartment in New York she shares with a pug dog named Pongo, although former mentor Morris has advised her to move out of the city. He suggested Paris, where she could take the dog to restaurants.
    'I still live the way I always have. Money to a writer is time. I think of it as years of writing free and clear. I mean, I'm not going to buy a motor home or a boat. All I need is a place to sleep, notebook paper and dog food.'

    Tartt's content it took donna tartt nine years to write her first novel, the secret history. It took a week for it to become a best seller, and a national sensation. (1992, Sep 27). Chauncey Mabe and Book Editor. South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

    I'm like Huck Finn. I can be perfectly happy on no money at all. Now that I have money, my life has changed not a bit. Everybody's expecting me to buy a condo, make investments. I don't care about any of that. I like ephemera - books, clothes. Food. That's all.
    Smart Tartt. (2014, June 2). James Kaplan. Vanity Fair.

  • What degree does Donna Tartt have?

    Donna Tartt received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Mississippi.

  • What awards has Donna Tartt won?

    2003 WH Smith Literary Award – The Little Friend
    2003 Orange Prize for Fiction shortlist – The Little Friend
    2013 National Book Critics Circle Award (fiction) shortlist – The Goldfinch
    2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist – The Goldfinch
    2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – The Goldfinch
    2014 Time 100 Most Influential People
    2014 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence for Fiction – The Goldfinch
    2014 Vanity Fair International Best Dressed List
    2014 Malaparte Prize (Italy) – The Goldfinch

  • Is Donna Tartt celibate?

    Several articles have circulated, claiming that fans were fixated on uncovering whether Donna Tartt was celibate. The alleged obsession stems from Tartt's notable statement in a Vanity Fair interview, "Je ne vais jamais me marier" or "I will never get married," which has been erroneously interpreted as an assertion of celibacy.

    Tartt is known to be a very private individual and has never discussed her personal life in interviews. The confusion regarding her supposed celibacy appears to be the result of a game of telephone. During an interview, Tartt made the aforementioned statement in French, indicating her stance on marriage. Unfortunately, a mistranslation in a subsequent article caused confusion and led to the spread of misinformation. Subsequent reports then perpetuated the idea that fans were eagerly seeking information on Tartt's celibacy, when in reality, this was not the case.

    Donna Tartt: Was it Emerson who talked about the great freedom of American life as the freedom not to participate in the life of the culture, the freedom to shut the door, to close the curtains? American heroes are almost always solitary figures in our literature.
    Interview: The very, very private life of Ms Donna Tartt. (2013, November 24). Independent.

    Rather basic biographical facts, for example, such as whether she is married, are off limits.
    'I don't like to talk about my personal life,' she says, sitting in a chair in the corner of a hotel lobby.
    'Why should I?' she asks, well, tartly.
    Personal publicity, Tartt explains, is not just annoying; it's actually injurious to a writer.
    'It's detrimental,' she says. 'It's actively harmful. It draws attention away from the books. The books are the important thing. I think that a writer's life is very unimportant. The book is the important thing. I'm not an actress; it's not my job to present myself as myself. Books are objects that stand on their own. There's too much interest in text being interpreted in terms of the writer's own or imaginary biography. Hemingway is a really good example. People think that they've got Hemingway's number, that they know who he is, so they don't bother to read his books anymore. Hemingway's life was not the interesting or important thing about him; it was his books, that's what he did.'

    Famous and yet unknown. (2002, December 8). Michael J. Ybarra. Los Angeles Times.

    Tartt has closely guarded her privacy over the years, eschewing lectures, interviews, festival appearances. In a rare interview Tartt gave to the Irish Independent in 2013, she said that publicity activities are for her 'just distracting. It's better for me to be at home and getting on with my work than standing up and talking about a book... I'd go mad if I had to go on a book tour every two years. I'd go completely berserk. I can just about handle it once every decade.'
    Did a Podcast About Donna Tartt Go Too Far?. (2021, October 22). Jo Livingstone. New Republic.

    Tartt also, famously, detests any mention of her home life. Ever since the 'Je ne vais jamais me marier' quote, journalists and fans have been trying to discover if Tartt really is celibate. Is the quote still true? She turns inarticulate for the only time during our meeting. 'Um. I don't know. Now we're getting into kind of - I don't know.' She laughs a woodpecker laugh. 'Now I'm a little embarrassed. Basically I have nothing to talk about. I - I - I -' She gives a coy smile. Conversation closed. She isn't celibate, by the way - even I know of three men she's been out with, and there was even a rumoured engagement. They were all sworn to secrecy. There might be a boyfriend at the moment - at one point she says 'we', quickly changing it to 'I', although that could mean her dogs.
    A talent to tantalise. (2002, October 18). Katharine Viner. The Guardian.

  • Where did Donna Tartt go to college?

    From 1981 to 1982 Tartt attended the University of Mississippi. Encouraged by Willie Morris and Barry Hannah she transferred to Bennington College in Vermont in 1982. She received a BA from Bennington College in 1986.

    Willie Morris quickly saw the talent in Greenwood native Donna Tartt, and it was not long before Barry Hannah admitted the 18-year-old into his graduate level writing course at the University of Mississippi. At the urging of her mentors, Tartt transferred to Bennington College in Vermont.'The Secret History' very revealing. (2014, March 29). Lisa Newman. Clarion Ledger.

  • Are Donna Tartt and Bret Easton Ellis friends?

    Bret Easton Ellis – an early reader of Tartt's manuscript for 'The Secret History' – introduced his friend to his literary agent, who secured a $450,000 advance for the book.
    The Secret History: A murder mystery that thrills 30 years on. (2022, October 21). Clare Thorp. BBC.

    In early 1989, Tartt's Bennington classmate and friend Bret Easton Ellis introduced her and her project (it was three-quarters done; she had an outline for the rest) to his agent, ICM honcho Amanda Urban. This was more than a favor: Ellis had been reading the novel, as it progressed, for six years, since he and Tartt were in their second year at college. He thought she had the goods. So did Urban. "She said, 'My God, it's incredibly well written—I can't stop turning the pages,' Ellis recalls. Urban accepted Tartt as an unsigned client; two years later, with the completed (866-page) manuscript in hand, Urban was able to whip up a bidding frenzy among several publishing houses.
    Smart Tartt. (2014, June 2). James Kaplan. Vanity Fair.

    I think Donna dedicated the book to me because I shaved off a couple years of it moving through the system. I got it to Binky [Urban, ICM agent], and Binky got it to Gary [at Knopf], and the whole deal was done in a month, and it changed Donna's life. Donna was grateful. But she felt indebted to me for something I was happy to do. It was a pleasure reading those pages for a decade.
    Smart Tartt. (2014, June 2). James Kaplan. Vanity Fair.

    Donna Tartt just sent the nicest e-mail reminding me that we met thirty years ago this fall. 'Did you realize that?' she asked. I hadn't...
    @BretEastonEllis. (2012, November 18). Twitter.

  • Where does Donna Tartt live today?

    (For the record, she is unmarried, has no children, and divides her time between Manhattan and the Virginia countryside.)
    Writer Brings in the World While She Keeps It at Bay. (2013, October 20). Julie Bosman. New York Times.

    'The Secret History' was a huge success but, except for a few magazine pieces, Tartt largely dropped out of sight for the next decade. 'Ten years of mysterious silence,' as Vanity Fair put it recently.
    Not so mysterious, Tartt says. She was just working, either in her house near Charlottesville, Va., or in her New York apartment.

    Famous and yet unknown. (2002, Dec 8). Michael J. Ybarra. Los Angeles Times.

    Neal Guma worked in several top-notch New York galleries (including an internship at the John Good gallery in Soho while a student at Bennington College) prior to his move to Charlottesville in 1997 when he and his partner, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Donna Tartt, purchased a farm an hour south of town.
    Arresting Images, Neal Guma Fine Art opens in Charlottesville. (2016, December 19). Virginia Living.

    She rarely gives interviews, doesn't have social media and divides her time living in semi-reclusion between New York (she always stays at the Soho Grand Hotel) and the Virginia home she calls her 'dacha.'
    'The Secret History': Why the quintessential 'young American snob's novel' is trending on TikTok. (2022, October 29). Begoña Gómez Urzaiz.

    Some say that Tartt and McGloin shared lodgings, in Boston and New York, after her graduation from Bennington, and that he supported her while she finished her book. 'After I graduated from college, I lived with a friend who didn't make me pay rent' is all she will say. 'My mother was helpful. I was in Boston, then I was in New York. I worked at a bookstore called the Avenue Victor Hugo for three months, in Boston. Then in New York I worked as an assistant to a painting teacher at Parsons. I was the monitor, and I helped him in his classes.'
    Smart Tartt. (2014, June 2). James Kaplan. Vanity Fair.

  • What music does Donna Tartt listen to?

    Do you listen to music when you need a break from writing?
    'Sometimes while I am writing, too! Baroque music helps me concentrate, and sometimes too ambient music. I listened to Sibelius a lot when I was writing The Secret History – the Nordic mood suited the mood of the book.'

    Who are your favorite singers/composers?
    'The artist to whom I return continually are Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Chet Baker, Brian Eno, Philip Glass, Glenn Gould. I grew up with pop music and I never get tired of David Bowie or the Velvet Underground or the Jesus and Mary Chain. I love Elliot Smith. Lana del Rey is my favorite pop singer of the last few years. Recently I've been listening to a lot of Sidney Bechet.'

    Any classical?
    'I love early music, like Palestrina and De Machaut. Of composers I love Brahms, Beethoven, Kurt Weill, Mozart.'

    Donna Tartt, the writing life. (2021, June 25). Grace d'Annunzio. Rivista Studio.

  • What books does Donna Tartt read?

    Who are your worshipped writers?
    'Homer, the Greek poets and tragedians, Dante and Shakespeare are my constant touchstones. I went back and read Macbeth and Hamlet during the pandemic. I also venerate Dickens, Nabokov, Proust, Dostoevsky, Yeats, Borges, Edith Wharton, Evelyn Waugh, Salinger, Virginia Woolfe. Dickens was a part of my familial landscape, the air I breathed.'
    Among the contemporary authors who do you like the most?
    'I tend to read 19th century authors more than 20st or even 21rst. Chateaubriand and Mémoires d'outretombe kept me occupied for much of 2020. That said I love Edward St. Aubyn, Haruki Murakami, Olga Tokarczuk, Don DeLillo, W.G. Sebald, Joan Didion. My favorite books of the pandemic – these were new books to me, though none of these writers are now living – were 'Jigsaw' by Sybille Bedford, 'All for Nothing' by Walter Kempowski and 'A Balcony in the Forest' by Julien Gracq'.
    You also love poetry a lot. Did you ever write poems?
    'I did (write poems), and still sometimes do. I started out as a poet. And as a reader I love poetry more than novels and turn to poetry more often for inspiration. I was thrilled when Louise Gluck won the Nobel as she's one of my favorite living poets'.

    Donna Tartt, the writing life. (2021, June 25). Grace d'Annunzio. Rivista Studio.

    Not really as follow ups, though I can direct people to some books that were important to me when I wrote 'The Secret History' that admirers of the book might enjoy. I couldn’t have written or even thought to write 'The Secret History' without 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', which is sharp and shocking as ever on the page—it’s a short novel, very tight and modern by 19th century standards.
    'Le Grand Meulnes' by Alain Fournier has a lot to do with the elegiac mood of the novel, the sense of a lost, magical past — so too does 'The Great Gatsby.'
    'Cold Heaven' by Brian Moore and 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' by Shirley Jackson helped me to keep an open sense of what’s possible in a literary novel.
    It’s too bad that people mostly seem to know the film version of 'The Talented Mr Ripley' because the novel, by Patricia Highsmith, differs in key respects and is and far superior.
    The books of George Orwell and of Evelyn Waugh were very important to me during the time I was writing 'The Secret History' and still are. I was reading them obsessively during that time—novels, essays, letters, everything.
    The novels of Vladimir Nabokov are touchstones, as well.
    Anybody wanting to know more about the ideas behind the book should read 'Bacchae' by Euripedes (I like the Richmond Lattimore translation) and 'Phaedrus' and the 'Apology' by Plato—a lot of people will be put off by the mention of Plato but these two dialogues in particular were life-changing.
    'Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice' by JF Martel had not yet been published when I wrote 'The Secret History' but it articulates very clearly some of my ideas about art as a meeting place for ideas otherwise inexpressible and a conduit to realities beyond the human: 'True beauty is not pretty. It is a tear in the facade of the everyday, a sudden revelation of the forces seething beneath the surface of things.'

    Donna Tartt answers 11 questions about 'The Secret History'. (2022, December 20). Elena Nicolaou. Today.

  • What religion is Donna Tartt?

    Donna Tartt is a convert to Catholicism.

    Donna Tartt seems, in many ways, a figure from another decade: a small, hard-drinking, southern writer, a Catholic convert, witheringly smart, with an occluded past, sadness among the magnolias.
    Smart Tartt. (2014, June 2). James Kaplan. Vanity Fair.

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