Writers are told to write what they know. Perhaps that's why novelist Anne Lamott is so prolific. She's lived through lifetimes of grief, happiness, struggle and triumph. And she writes about it all.
Lamott is the author of six fiction and three non-fiction books such as the new bestseller "Blue Shoe" and the queen mother of writing guides, "Bird by Bird." She became a hero to many when she battled her alcohol and drug problems and, in the process, became a single mother, sober woman, successful writer and spiritual Christian with a wry sense of humor and a sharp wit.
Lamott describes herself as a left-wing hippy. Her pale skin and dreadlocks seem to contradict one another, as does her foul mouth and her desire to raise a clean-talking, church-attending son. In short, Lamott is like so many of us, but she lives out loud on paper. She helps us see that we're not alone, no matter how screwed up we might feel.
Her books are written in such a non-nonsense conversational style, it's as if she's sitting right next to the reader, talking up a storm. She takes her chaotic life and makes some sense out of it, through her undeniably affective writing talent.
Newsweek Magazine is quoted as saying "Lamott writes about subjects that begin with capital letters (Alcoholism, Motherhood, Jesus). But armed with self-effacing humor and ruthless honesty, she converts potential op-ed boilerplate into enchantment."
The New Yorker wrote: "Anne Lamott is a cause for celebrations. [Her] real genius lies in capturing the ineffable, describing not perfect moments, but imperfect ones...perfectly. She is nothing short of miraculous."
Even when she talks on Christianity, which she did at length in her bestseller "Travelling Mercies," Lamott escapes the syrupy-sweet born-again chatter. She jokes about "slapping a Jesus fish on the back of her car," then gets serious as she explains that the God she believes in is mind-blowing, universal and life saving.
But getting to this sense of peace and fulfillment didn't come easy. Her struggle to stay healthy is a daily one, even now. As she told Presbyterians Today Online, "Everything I have to offer anyone -- [my son] Sam, my church, or who I am as a writer -- depends on me staying sober."
Lamott's beloved father died of brain cancer when she was barely out of her teens. His death inspired her first, and semi-autobiographical, novel, "Hard Laughter," which Lamott touts as a love letter of sorts. In her struggle to find solid ground, she became a profound drug abuser, alcoholic, bulimic and risk-taking woman. She lived on $7,000 a year, which went up her nose or down her throat.
She kept writing through it all, using her life and her trauma to help her grow. Her best friend, Pam, became a lifeline for her, as did her church, St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City, Calif. Lamott describes how she literally stumbled into this mainly black church in one of the poorer parts of Northern California.
This community, and her newly discovered Christianity, helped Lamott get clean and sober, and stay that way through the death of Pam from breast cancer. Lamott was 31 when she embarked on this spiritual path, and her life has never been the same. Her friends, inner strength and spirituality helped through the tough times, as well as the miraculous ones, such as the birth of her son in 1989.
All these things on their own would single Lamott out for her strength and courage. But the fact that she opens herself up so completely and writes about them with her magical talent makes her a hero.