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July 27, 2023

Reader Nancy Sharko Reports on a Library Event Featuring Ann Napolitano

Posted by tom

On Tuesday, July 25th, Ann Napolitano appeared at the Ramsey Free Public Library in Ramsey, NJ to talk about her latest novel, HELLO BEAUTIFUL, a New York Times bestseller and Oprah's 100th book club pick. Nancy Sharko, a reader of ours who attended the event, reports on Napolitano’s appearance and some of the insights she shared with the audience.


You can go home again! Ann Napolitano returned to her childhood library in Ramsey, NJ, on Tuesday night to talk about HELLO BEAUTIFUL, her writing process, her experience with Oprah and more. In addition to a room full of readers, Ms. Napolitano’s mother, other family members and friends/parents of friends were in attendance.

Ms. Napolitano lived in Ramsey until she was in her teens and expressed much love for the town library. She would go there each week and fill up a duffel bag with books that she described as “reading indiscriminately”: LITTLE WOMEN, THE SECRET GARDEN, Zane Grey and Trixie Belden, to name a few.

While her last two books (DEAR EDWARD and HELLO BEAUTIFUL) have been great successes, her first two (WITHIN ARM’S REACH and A GOOD HARD LOOK) were published when she was in her 30s and didn’t receive as much acclaim. They also were taking her a very long time to write, so her husband thought of a different approach. He suggested she spend a year to think, research and take notes for her next book, but not to write what she called her “pretty sentences.” She thought a year was too long but agreed to try for nine months.

She tried this approach with DEAR EDWARD and found that it was very helpful (although the book still took her eight years to write). She did the same thing with HELLO BEAUTIFUL, which she began writing in April 2020, just as the COVID lockdown began. She was able to complete it in a much quicker time period because that was all she did. Her father also died at the beginning of lockdown, and she and her family were not able to be with him during his final days and mourn in person together. She felt that the characters in HELLO BEAUTIFUL grabbed her, and she was able to move into their world for the emotional support she needed. She described it as her most personal book.

Ms. Napolitano said that the ideas for each of her books started with an obsession: a story from her mother’s childhood, Flannery O’Connor, a plane crash that occurred in 2010, and the history of basketball and its overlap with the civil rights movement. The obsession for her next novel is trees!

There are also family connections in HELLO BEAUTIFUL. Her mother is from a large Irish Catholic family, and one of her uncles lived in Chicago. When she was young, he regularly would send her postcards of different city sites and always addressed them “Hello Beautiful.” She loved this as it made her feel special. He and his wife still live in Chicago, and she spent some time with them as part of her research into the Pilsen neighborhood, including the library where much of the book is set.

During the nine-month period before she started writing HELLO BEAUTIFUL, she said she knew four of the story’s elements: William would be involved with two of the sisters; he wouldn’t have the basketball career he wanted; he would have a very tall daughter; and a sad event would impact one of the sisters. For background on William’s parents, she turned to a story in her family from many years ago where a sibling was born the same week that the family’s first child died suddenly. The father couldn’t look at his new child, and the parents couldn’t move past their heartbreak.
Ms. Napolitano is a great inspiration to writers that they shouldn’t give up. She was 45 when DEAR EDWARD was published; she has total gratitude for all her success and is in awe of it. Most recently, she was excited to learn that President Obama included HELLO BEAUTIFUL on his summer reading list. Her approach is to assume complete failure of her books, and that works for her! As a result, she had no idea that they would be picked up by different book influencers. DEAR EDWARD was selected by Jenna Bush Hager for her book club, as well as a series for Apple TV+.

When she received the call from Oprah to announce that HELLO BEAUTIFUL was selected for Oprah’s book club, she was in the process of taking out the garbage. She saw the call was from Chicago, so she thought it was her uncle. Even though her agent and editor knew about the book selection, Oprah likes to make the initial call to the authors she selects. So Ms. Napolitano got what she called the surprise of her life (while still holding the bag of garbage). After the call, she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement quickly; Oprah is very serious about the NDA. In the past, an author let the news out about their book being selected before Oprah’s announcement, so it was pulled from her book club. Ms. Napolitano met with Oprah to film the segment on CBS News and her book club. The energy that radiates from Oprah is like nothing she has ever experienced. She worked as a personal assistant to Sting in her 20s and met many celebrities. But nobody compares to Oprah!

Ms. Napolitano has just started writing her next book, which is about a family who lives in a cul-de-sac, similar to her childhood home, that’s next to a wooded area. The obsession with trees came from her reading of THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers, and she has since read many books about trees. While in Ramsey, she was able to meet members of the town’s Shade Tree Commission at the wooded area by her old home to learn more about the trees that are there.

Some favorite books she has read recently include BLACK CAKE by Charmaine Wilkerson, THE COVENANT OF WATER by Abraham Verghese, THIS TENDER LAND by William Kent Krueger, and THE LOVE SONGS OF W.E.B. DU BOIS by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.