Ann Beattie is a short story writer and novelist who, after numerous earlier rejections from The New Yorker, had a story accepted by the magazine in 1974. Two more acceptances followed that year, five the next and regularly from then on to the extent that, as Judith Shulevitz says in the New York Times Book Review, Beattie “becomes so intimately associated with the magazine that people begin to talk of a New Yorker school of short fiction.” Beattie’s most recent collection, The New Yorker Stories, is a compilation of those 48 stories published from 1974 through 1986 and was selected by The New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2010.
Beattie was born in 1947 in Washington, D.C. and graduated from American University and the University of Connecticut. She is the Edgar Allan Poe Chair of the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Virginia. Her first collection of stories, Distortions, and her critically acclaimed first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, were both published in 1976. Seven story collections have followed and seven novels, as well as a novella, Walks With Men (2010). Beattie’s next book, Mrs. Nixon, will be published in November 2011 and she says of it: “...(it) is a cross-genre book based on fact, but one that takes Mrs. Nixon’s life as a point of departure to present and analyze the way fiction writers write and think.” Beattie is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has received the Rea Award for the Short Story, a PEN/Malamud award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in Maine.
When Ellen was told that she would be hired as a music teacher at the high school, she decided that it did not mean she would have to look like the other people on the faculty. She would tuck her hair neatly behind her ears, instead of letting it fall free, schoolgirlishly. She had met some of the teachers when she went for her interview, and they all seemed to look like what she was trying to get away from - suburbanites at a shopping center. Casual and airy, the fashion magazines would call it. At least, that’s what they would have called it back when she still read them, when she lived in Chevy Chase and wore her hair long, falling free, the way it had fallen in her high-school graduation picture. “Your lovely face,” her mother used to say, “and all covered up by hair.” Her graduation picture was still on display in her parents’ house, next to a picture of her on her first birthday.
It didn’t matter how Ellen looked now; the students laughed at her behind her back. They laughed behind all the teachers’ backs. They don’t like me, Ellen thought, and she didn’t want to go to school. She forced herself to go, because she needed the job. She had worked hard to get away from her lawyer husband and almost-paid-for house. She had doggedly taken night classes at Georgetown University for two years, leaving the dishes after dinner and always expecting a fight. Her husband loaded them into the dishwasher - no fight. Finally, when she was ready to leave, she had to start the fight herself. There is a better world, she told him. “Teaching at the high school?” he asked. In the end, though, he had helped her find a place to live - an older house, on a side street off Florida Avenue, with splintery floors that had to be covered with rugs, and walls that needed to be repapered but that she never repapered. He hadn’t made trouble for her. Instead, he made her look silly. He made her say that teaching high school was a better world.
From the story “A Platonic Relationship”, the first of Beattie’s stories published, in 1974, in The New Yorker