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The Writing Packer Family

I’ve posted enough about George Packer (example here) to make it clear that I’m a fan of him and his work.  Over the weekend the San Francisco Chronicle published a long and thoughtful feature on the Packer family – George and his older sister Ann (a bestselling writer in her own right), mother Nancy (writer, former Stanford faculty and longtime Director of the university’s Creative Writing Program), and late father Herb, a beloved and inspiring law professor at Stanford in the late 1950s and 1960s:  “Thicker Than Water:  From two generations of the Packer family, four very different writers emerged.”  An excerpt:

In opera, there is often a moment when the action stops and the singers move downstage. Each unspools a private melody, as if in confidence, and when these confessions intertwine, the audience begins to hear all the shadings of the larger story. This is, in some way, the effect of reading the works of the Packer family.

A quotation from George:

“So many writers grew up in tortured isolation, in revolt against their families. I and my sister were in a house where writing was considered the worthiest thing you could try to do.”

And on Nancy:

One of her students was Michael Cunningham, author of “The Hours,” who has called her course in short-story writing the turning point of his life.

Cunningham wrote a profile of her for Stanford magazine in 1995, and cited the continuing influence of what he calls “Packerisms.” His favorite: “Being brilliant is not enough. You’ve got to have something else. You’ve got to have a moral center out of which the art radiates.”

Of her influence on her own kids, she deflects pride with humor. “They must have thought it looked easy,” she says. On the glass-topped coffee table is a copy of her son’s new play- she was in the audience when it opened off-Broadway in March – and her daughter’s latest novel.

She holds up that book, evidence of what good writing can do: “There’s life on the page. You read it, and it’s not your experience, but it expands your experience,” she says.

“You know, they used to be my children. Now I’m their mother.”

Read the whole thing.