Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI WRITERS: Donna Tartt


Donna Tartt Donna Tartt, Photo by Timothy Greenfielf-Sanders1963

Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Goldfinch

Major Works

Novels

  • The Secret History New York: Knopf, 1992 
  • The Little Friend 2002
  • The Goldfinch 2013 (Pulitzer Prize 2014)

Short Stories

  •  "A Christmas Pageant." Harper's 287.1723 (December 1993): 45+.
  •  "A Garter Snake." GQ 65.5 (May 1995): 89+.

Nonfiction Articles

  • "Sleepytown: A Southern Gothic Childhood, with Codeine." Harper's  286 (July 1992): 60-66.
  • "Basketball Season." In The Best American Sports Writing, 1993, edited and with an introduction by Frank Deford. Houghton Mifflin,  1993.
  • "Team spirit: Memories of Being a Freshman Cheerleader for the  Basketball Team." Harper's 288 (April 1994): 37-40. 

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Donna Tartt: A Biography The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
By Laura Anderson (SHS) 2002

Born in 1963 in Greenwood, Mississippi, Donna Louise Tartt is the elder of two daughters born to Don and Taylor Tartt (Padgett, 1).  She spent her childhood growing up on the edge of the Delta in Grenada, Mississippi.  Tartt is  said to have cultivated an early love for literature. By the young age of five, Tartt had written her first poem (Kaplan, 1).

Donna TarttAfter high school in 1981, Tartt  entered the University of Mississippi in Oxford.  Willie Morris noticed one of her stories and told her, "I think you are a genius."  Donna Tartt was then accepted into Barry Hannah's graduate short story course.  After her freshmen year,  Tartt transferred to Bennington College in Vermont to study the classics. Donna then started to work on her novel The Secret History.  Knopf publishers bought her novel, and it was published on January 3, 1993 (Penguin, 1).  Tartt has written one novel, The Secret History and two short stories, A Christmas Pageant and A Garter's Snake.  Alan Pakula bought the rights to Tartt's book  and plans to  make  a movie in the future (Showbiz, 2).  Many critics agree that this is only the beginning for Donna Tartt (Ent. Weekly, 2).

Film rights to The Secret History were sold to director Alan Pakula; but Pakula died in 1998, and the project plans lapsed 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. 

Tartt's second novel got rave reviews.  Written ten years after The Secret History and published in 2002, it is called The Little Friend.

2014 UPDATE

Donna Tartt's third novel, The Goldfinch, published in 2013 by Little, Brown won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. According to the Los Angeles Times, the judges in their citation described The Goldfinch as a "beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart." All three of her books are mysteries, and according to Independent. ie, Tartt herself is somewhat of a mystery, perferring to live a private life despite her success as a writer. In 2014 Tartt was 50 years old. Her books have each taken about ten years to write, and The Goldfinch seems to have been strongly influenced by Dickens, one of Tartt's favorite childhood writers.

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A Review of The Secret History The Secret History by Donna Tartt
by Laura Anderson (SHS)

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is a mystery novel that focuses on the study of classical and modern art (Daphne's, 1).  This novel is based on six students who are majoring in ancient Greek at Hampden College in Vermont (Yee, 1).  Henry, Francis, Charles, and Camilla hold  a ritual in hopes of meeting Dionysus, the Greek God of wine.  During this ritual they lose control of their bodies and commit unpremeditated murder.  Richard, a new member in the group, finds out about the murder and decides  to keep their secret.  Later, when Bunny, another member in their close-knit group finds out,  he is  also murdered (Kaplan, 125).  Bunny was a greedy, unreliable character who could not be trusted.  Therefore, he created his own demise.

Laura Anderson, SHS reviewer and biographerWhen the book begins, the characters are a close group of friends, but after the murder, "their friendships start to disintegrate" (Hajari, 126).  "These students shared a certain coolness, a cruel, mannered charm which was not modern in the least, but had a strange cold breath of the ancient world" (Hajari, 126).  In a review of the book Shaprio and Sawhill state, "She (Tartt) adorns them with quirks, but none has a personality" (128).  These reviewers were talking about the characters in The Secret History, whom  I thought were developed well  enough.  Tartt gave the reader a sense of who each person is and how much it would take for them to commit murder.  These two critics also said, "Tartt's amateur device of keeping them (the characters) constantly drunk or on drugs gets tedious fast."  I also felt that Tartt overused the students'  regression into alcohol and drug use.  Many paragraphs continually speak of the students getting up to get a drink or passing out on the couch.  Nevertheless, I can imagine these characters doing this, and Tartt's descriptions of drunkenness give this novel an enormous amount of truthfulness and verisimilitude.

I think for Henry, Francis, Camilla, Charles and Richard, Bunny's murder is a way for them to get rid of their own problems and worries.  Bunny is their ultimate scapegoat.  However, Bunny's murder only brings them more fear.  It might have temporarily taken care of their problem, but in the end it created more horror for the group than they could have ever imagined.  "The rest of this book involves the ramifications of the crimes, the group's remorse, and in the end the group's ultimate breakup" (Allen, 132).The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Two critics have seemingly opposite opinions of  The Secret History.  Fosburgh says, "The book is beautifully written, suspenseful from start to finish.  I could not put it down"  (127).  Another critic says, "It was meant to be a tale of golden youth tarnished, of privilege and intellect run amok.  The Secret History is instead 544 pages of low-wattage Crime and Punishment.  Sadly, it is the reader who does the time" (Kaufman 132).  I would not say the book was full of low-wattage material.  I also could not say I thought it was suspenseful from start to finish.  The first hundred pages could not keep my attention, and I often laid the book down.  Though after I read some more of the book,  it grasped my interest.  The only complaint I have about the book is that it focuses too much on the students'  drinking and not enough on developing the plot.  The other thing that bothered me was the sexual orgy that took place during the ritual (Kaplan, 126).  I decided to leave this part out of my paper  because I did not think it held that much importance.  I would not recommend this novel for a young student because of what happens during the ritual.

Fosburgh says, "It hung about me in an unsettled way" (127).  I personally have also found myself thinking about the book and about how some of the students' situations are similar to some of my own.  Most people know a character like Bunny.  You might have a relative or friend who is greedy, self-absorbed, and obnoxious, but could we ever bring ourselves to murder?

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Related Websites

December 2, 2002. PBS's Martha Woodroof reports on the career of author Donna Tartt. Her childhood and upbringing chart much of her new book, The Little Friend.

Ray Suarez has a pre-Halloween conversation with two writers of the horror genre -- Anne Rice and Donna Tartt. whol read from their work, talk about the history and tradition of gothic literature.

Danny Dee's review of The Secret History.

Interesting reviews of The Secret History and author bio from Barnes and Noble.

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Bibliography

1.  Daphne's reviews. http://www.mindspring.com/~driordan/authors/tartt.htm

2.  Entertainment Weekly. alt.culture.  http://www.pathfinder.com/altculture/aentries_ew/d/donxtartt.html

3.  Kaplan, James. The Secret History.  http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/8543/dtop.htm

4.  Longman., ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism . Vol 76. White Plains, N.Y., 1986.

5.  Mississippi Writers Page: Donna Tartt (1963-  ). http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/tartt_donna/.

6.  Penguin. http://www.penguin.co.uk/Penguim/Books/0140167773.html

7.  Shirley, Aleda, et al., eds."Donna Tartt." Mississippi Writers: Directory and Literary Guide. University Press, The University of Mississippi, 1995: 68.

8.  Showbiz. Secret movie  http://web3.Starware.com/dailydose/askMrShowbiz/archive/02_19_96.html

9.  Tartt, Donna.  The Secret History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992.

10.  Yee. review of Secret. http://www.anatomy.su.oz.au/danny/book-review/h/The_Secret_History.html

11. The Best American sports writing, 1993,  edited and with an introduction by Frank Deford. Houghton Mifflin

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Updated April 2014
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