Controversial author Anne Rice (born Howard Allen O’Brien), best known for her “Gothic” novels in her Vampire Chronicles series, has died. Her son, Christopher (also a novelist) announced her death on social media, citing complications from a stroke.
Rice arguably courted controversy throughout her life; her most famous novels, which center on the vampires Louis and Lestat (played by Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire), are often unabashedly erotic. She is also less well known for her writing as AN Roquelaure, banned author of the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (often described as erotica) and Anne Rampling of Exit to Eden, described by the NY Times as “steamy.” She also wrote less well known stand alone books like Cry to Heaven, which follows the castrati in 18th Century Italy.
Her writings have resonated with many, particularly “gay and transgender readers who identified with their themes of isolation and alienation.” Her writings are not the only reason she has struck a chord with many, though. Her willingness to engage with fans, whom she calls the “People of the Page” on social media, is well known in the fan community, where she commonly responds directly to fan comments on not only her work but also on current events. Others identified with her struggle with her faith; she became “disillusioned” with her Catholic faith in her teens, and her struggles can be seen in some of her writings, such as Memnoch the Devil. She later returned to a belief in God, even writing two novels about the life of Jesus.
In addition to being a banned author herself and frequently addressing sensitive topics on her social media pages, Rice stirred up debate several years ago by criticizing “internet lynch mobs” attacking controversial authors and books. She stated that “we are facing a new era of censorship, in the name of political correctness” following criticism of Kate Breslin’s For Such a Time. She also made references in the past to “anti-author gangster bully culture.” She explained that “I abhor censorship in all forms” and condemned use of the Amazon review system to “take down” authors whose books are controversial.
“I think all this is dangerous. I think we have to stand up for the freedom of fiction writers to write what they want to write, no matter how offensive it might be to someone else. We must stand up for the fiction as a place where transgressive behavior and ideas can be explored.”
She has also faced criticism of those comments, with Bustle arguing that what she calls censorship is really cultural criticism, calling her comments “an unexpected hypocrisy.” Bustle argues that she hasn’t read the book (For Such a Time) that she is defending, and also argues that in 2013 she “sicced an internet lynch mob on a blogger who didn’t like her book.” But Rice was never one to let controversy slow her down.
I think Blogger Erica Hopper said it well when she wrote of The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty “They aren’t books I’ll probably ever read again simply because they are not books of my taste. Looking at the books in a sense of word choice, grammar, scene description- it’s a great book. Then on the other hand, looking at the books based on subject matter, they aren’t books I’m comfortable with. These are certainly books that you have to begin reading with a very open mind.”
I would argue that Rice’s books were often intended, at least in part, to make the reader uncomfortable, to push us out of our comfort zones. She tackled uncomfortable issues and wrote characters that you sometimes loved and sometimes disliked (there’s a reason she called Lestat her “Brat Prince”), which is how most of us are in reality, right?
Despite being fantastical creatures like vampires and witches, her characters were often very rawly human. And she was also well known for her love for her fans, regardless of what shape, color, sexuality or style they came in. Her complete acceptance of those around her, at least to me from a distance, always seemed genuine.
Ultimately I think Rice’s legacy isn’t just her stance on censorship or her willingness to write about things that make us uncomfortable, but her willingness to so publicly struggle with her own problems. She spoke of her struggles with losing her daughter to leukemia and the death of her husband, and her struggles with her faith were so public as to feature prominently in her writing.
I suspect part of her popularity was the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) message “it’s OK to struggle, I struggle too.”
Lisa Hoover is a public services librarian at Clarkson University and an adjunct professor in criminal justice at SUNY Canton. In addition to her MLS, Lisa holds a JD and an MA in political science. She began her career as an editor and then manager for a local news organization, adjunct teaching in her “spare time.” She teaches courses in criminal procedure, criminal law and constitutional law. She is passionate about First Amendment issues. She recently began her career as a librarian, starting at Clarkson University in June 2017, teaching information literacy sessions and offering reference services. Lisa and her husband Lee live in Norwood, New York, with their cats Hercules and Pandora, and pug-mix Alexstrasza (Alex).