Anne Tyler

updated 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

It was the work of her favorite Southern writer, Eudora Welty, Anne Tyler once said, that first made her see how "very small things are often really larger than the large things." Small things, like the crackle of chicken legs frying in a kitchen, or the feeling inside a car on a rainy day, or the way that seeing a loved one's face can sometimes seem, suddenly, like looking in the mirror. For 24 years, in 11 novels, Tyler has written about such moments, using her keen eye and antic sensibility to render the mundane not just recognizable but delightful-even magical. Her stories are about families, both ordinary and not-so-ordinary, and—as her considerable following has always known—her writing is wickedly funny, sad and infused, invariably, with a stubborn sense of hope.

This was the year all of America seemed to catch on. In September, Breathing Lessons, Tyler's tale of a middle-aged Baltimore couple coming to terms with the slowing of their lives, slipped onto the New York Times best-seller list at No. 5 and started to climb. It was nominated for a National Book Award in October. And this month The Accidental Tourist—Tyler's 1985 novel about a writer of travel books for people who would really rather stay home—will open as a movie starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner.

At 47, Tyler, long a brisk seller, can truly be called a literary star. She did not go out of her way to make it happen. In this age of shameless self-promotion, Tyler lives quietly with her Iranian-born husband of 25 years, psychiatrist Taghi Modarressi, on a tree-lined street in Baltimore, the city that is home to most of her characters as well. (One daughter, Tezh, is in college; the other, Mitra, is a teenager.) She neither parties with Jay McInerney, nor haunts chic eateries, nor publicly discusses her craft at all. She has given no interviews in 11 years, simply because, says a spokesperson, "she doesn't like them, and she doesn't have to." She writes every day in her window-filled study with its polka-dot sofa and is visited by many of her best ideas, she once admitted in an essay, while performing the singularly unglamorous task of vacuuming the house.

Few people, it would seem, have less taste for the trappings of public success than Tyler. But even in her splendid privacy she must take some satisfaction that the time has passed when an acquaintance might ask her, as one did some years ago: "Have you found work yet—or are you still just writing?"

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