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Atlanta: AJC— An Author's Tribute to Atlanta Writer: Anne Rivers Siddons by Patti Callahan Henry

Updated: May 6, 2021


First Person: How author Anne Rivers Siddons saved me


When Atlanta writer Anne Rivers Siddons died Wednesday at age 83, she left a legacy of 19 novels, and of countless writers whom she has inspired. Patti Callahan Henry is one of those writers.

There are books you discover at the moment in your life when you need them the most, for nourishment or encouragement, or when it’s time to weep or heal. For me, Anne Rivers Siddons books are those exactly. Her novels shaped and influenced my imagination, cracked me open to understand the power of story.


It wasn’t just her stories that softened the edges of my guarded heart. Yes, the novels are beautiful but it was also the way she used words as if they were hers alone and no one else was given permission to manipulate them the way she could, a kind of magic she was granted at birth. We, as mortals, had the same alphabet and vocabulary in our lives but were unable to put them together this way, this Anne-Way.


I was a freshman in college, lost but pretending to be found. I was a girl trying on different personalities to see which one fit best: Sorority girl with the pink ribbon? College-football-recruiter serious in the orange and blue polyester uniform? Nursing student on the honor roll? Book Worm? Party Girl? I was all of the above and swinging wildly between each one, a pendulum that never rested, and yet there was one stabilizing force in my life, one thing I never abandoned: reading.


I was an obsessive, addicted reader, and the world disappeared as soon as I opened a book. That year that I picked up “Fox’s Earth” and read it in one sitting. What was this? This kind of story where words came alive like a river or took flight like a mythical creature? Anne Rivers Siddons: I wanted to know everything there was to know about her.


At that time in my life, before Google and social media, authors were unapproachable, ethereal and not quite real. They were fancy photographs on the back of book covers, not real people, just images and ideas as fictional as their stories. But Anne? She seemed like she might be real. She went to Auburn University, just as I did. She was in a sorority and she wrote and I was also doing both those things. She lived in Atlanta, only a few hours away.

Maybe writing was a real thing that women did for a living, or did because they were good at it, No! Because they were great at it.


I started following her like a groupie. She never knew this, but I did. First I went back and read the other books she’d written before “Fox’s Earth.”


Then after I’d graduated from college and was working as a nurse in Atlanta, “Peachtree Road” came out. Then “King’s Oak” — a book that irrevocably altered something inside me that I still can’t identify. Without any way to meet her or know her, I did what I’ve been doing my whole