Biography of Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman was born on August 7, 1953, into a family of writers. Her mother, Annalee Jacoby Fadiman, was the first female war correspondent in China, while her father, Clifton Fadiman, was an essayist, anthologist, critic, and MC of a quiz show called Information Please. Fadiman's childhood was idyllic. She and her brother Kim were surrounded by thousands of books, and dinner conversations often revolved around the meanings of words and literary references. Even the stories their father read them were book-related, such as "Wally the Word Worm," about an invertebrate who lived on polysyllables. Born in New York, Fadiman grew up in southern California, the setting of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, and in Connecticut.  

Fadiman began writing while at Harvard University as a columnist for Harvard Magazine. After graduating in 1975, she wrote for a variety of publications, including Harper's, Life magazine, and The New York Times. She also served as the editor of Phi Beta Kappa's The American Scholar, the Library of Congress publication Civilization, and two books, The Best American Essays and Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, published in 1997, was her first book, which she considers a work of literary reporting. It won numerous awards, including the National Book Critics' Circle Award for General Nonfiction. Fadiman also published two books of essays, both of which have won accolades. The first, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998), is a book about books: the joy of reading aloud, the romance of dedications, writing in the margins, and so on. The second, At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays (2007) discloses her passions for familiar pleasures such as staying up late, drinking coffee, and eating ice cream.  

Following a disagreement with the management of American Scholar, Fadiman accepted a position at Yale University as the Francis Writer in Residence.  There, she serves both as a professor in the English department and as a mentor for students considering careers in writing or editing. Although the position has cut down on the time she has to write, she finds great joy in teaching and in getting to know brilliant young writers. In 2012 she won the Richard H. Bodhead Prize for Teaching Excellence at Yale.  

Aside from writing and teaching, Fadiman's interests include the outdoors. As a child, she collected butterflies with her brother Kim, who has since become a mountain guide in Jackson, Wyoming. Fadiman spent some time as an outdoor educator as well, working in Montana after college teaching mountaineering and wilderness skills; one of her favorite topics is Antarctic explorers. She and her brother also share a passion for ice cream, which the two often make out of liquid nitrogen.   

Fadiman's husband, George Howe Colt, is also an author, and the two often edit one another's books. They take turns writing books and holding a job with health insurance. The couple has two children. 


Study Guides on Works by Anne Fadiman