NHP_09AnneRice#2

Author Anne Rice speaks before signing books at Borders in Lewisville in 1996.

So much of the literary successes of the late Anne Rice happened when she was in her 30s, but her influences in writing began in her early years in New Orleans and during her teen years in North Texas.

Rice, the Gothic novelist best known for Interview With the Vampire and its sequels, died Saturday from complications of a stroke. She was 80 years old.

Nineteen years before her bestseller, Rice arrived in Richardson from New Orleans in 1957, a year after her mother, Katherine, died, and her father, Howard, took a job with the U.S. Postal Service in Dallas.

Rice was raised in New Orleans where many of her novels were set. She wrote plays about ghostly images, and she and her three sisters would perform them for one another.

As a 15-year-old, her passion for writing continued while in Texas.

Her stepmother, Dorothy Van Bever O’Brien, bought Rice a portable black, noisy typewriter at a secondhand store in Dallas. At Richardson High School, Rice started writing as a features editor for the student newspaper. She later took writing classes at Texas Woman’s University in Denton.

Her work as a novelist blossomed when she moved to San Francisco while in college. But she has mentioned several times that her experience in Texas was a positive one at a formative time.

In 1991, former Dallas Morning News senior staff writer Joyce Sáenz Harris traveled to the Garden District in New Orleans to interview Rice for a Sunday arts cover story.

Rice told Harris that she experienced “a sense of severing” when she left New Orleans.

“But then I enjoyed Richardson a lot,” Rice said at the time. “Richardson really was America; New Orleans isn’t. It was like stepping into the television set and being in the world of Father Knows Best. It was brand-new, and everybody lived in three-bedroom brick homes with wall-to-wall carpeting and garbage disposals.”

Dallas did leave an impression on Rice, however.

“Dallas is so invented that you always have the feeling you’re in a theme park. It’s like something that’s been created,” she said. “It doesn’t have the same kind of character that Chicago has or New York or even Milwaukee. I do love it, though. It’s always been good to me.”

Harris, who is now a Dallas-based freelance editor, said Rice talked a lot about her teenage period in Texas because it’s where she met her husband, the poet Stan Rice, who was the editor of the Richardson High newspaper.

“I don’t think she felt as if she fitted in well in Texas, and she had just lost her mother recently — but meeting Stan made up for so much else,” Harris said Monday.

Rice said Stan was a year younger, and “we didn’t really go out until the following summer. But we were real close, and I was absolutely fascinated by him. I thought he was the cutest thing I’d ever laid eyes on.”

After Rice left for college, she and Stan dated others. She worked and went to classes but wasn’t making ends meet as a 60-cent-an-hour waitress in Denton.

According to her 2008 memoir, Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession, she recalled that her literary ambitions weren’t exactly encouraged in college. She wrote that one English teacher told the class that not much was expected beyond “decent sentences.”

“I loathed the very thought of assuming mediocrity,” Rice wrote. “I barely got by.”

Rice also attended North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas), where she was later honored as part of UNT’s exhibit of Texas female writers.

It was at TWU, she said in a 2008 interview, where she began to lose her Catholic faith.

“I wanted to read all the existential authors, to find out what the great world was about, and I just snapped,” she said. “I made the mistake of thinking that God couldn’t exist if there was this great big world out there that I had to find out about on my own, and that I hadn’t been told about.”

She moved to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district to continue her education.

“Stan, meantime, came up to Denton, realized I was gone and realized I was very important to him — like a light bulb flashing on — and started writing to me. And by the summer we were madly in love and planning to be married,” she told Harris.

Anne and Stan were married in 1961 by a justice of the peace in Denton. They stayed a semester and headed for San Francisco to work and study. Rice earned a political science degree at San Francisco State University.

“They were an extremely devoted couple who went through a terrible trauma [in 1972] when their little daughter Michele died,” Harris said. Michele Rose, who was 5, died of leukemia.

Harris still can recall Rice’s house in the Garden District and how it was beautifully preserved, restored and maintained. Harris’ profile of Rice brought readers up to date on Rice’s cult-like following after Interview with the Vampire made her an instant celebrity.

“Anne talked very intently when you got her going in conversation, but once the interview was over, she retreated back into her habitual privacy,” Harris said.

“I had seen the mobs of fans waiting for her to sign their books at a Taylor’s Books here, and I thought that even as much as she loved and deeply valued her readers, she surely must have felt a bit emotionally drained after being on public display.”

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