Anne Rice, a New Orleans-born author, was well known for her historical novels and fictional vampires.
Novelist Anne Rice’s literary achievements, as well as her familial and religious ties, were deeply rooted in the city of New Orleans. One of the most popular writers of the twentieth century, Rice wrote more than forty books, and more than one hundred million copies of her books have been sold worldwide. Primarily known for her series of gothic novels featuring vampires—collectively known as the Vampire Chronicles—Rice also published historical and erotic fiction. Often set in or around New Orleans, her fiction has indelibly shaped popular perceptions of the state.
Early Life and Career
The second of four daughters, Rice was born in New Orleans on October 4, 1941. Originally named Howard Allen O’Brien after her Irish parents, Katherine Allen O’Brien and Howard O’Brien, she tried out a variety of female names before settling on Anne. Believing that a good mother raised an intellectually superior child, Katherine O’Brien encouraged her children’s creativity while holding them accountable to their Catholic faith. This tension between permissiveness and restraint is key to Rice’s gothic and erotic novels. The emotional turmoil Rice experienced as the child of an alcoholic mother also kindled what one biographer described as “the need for love that pervaded her life [and] art.” Rice’s father provided more stability. Writing stories and poems for his children, he also encouraged them to read and took them on walks through New Orleans.
Katherine O’Brien’s death in 1956 had a powerful impact on Anne, particularly when her father married Dorothy Van Bever, a divorced Baptist. Troubled that his new marriage had left him estranged from the Catholic Church and hoping to begin anew, Howard moved his family from New Orleans to Richardson, Texas. Rice was devastated, feeling disconnected from the site of her upbringing and her mother. Yet it was in a Baptist high school in Texas that she met and dated Stan Rice. After graduating from high school, she attended Texas Woman’s University for a year and North Texas State University for six months, before moving to San Francisco in 1960.
Recognizing the importance of her relationship with Stan, Anne returned to Texas and the couple was married on October 14, 1961. They settled in California, where they both completed undergraduate degrees at San Francisco State University, she in political science and he in English. Anne also completed a master’s degree in creative writing in 1964 from San Francisco State, while Stan soon began teaching at the university.
Born in 1966, their first child, Michele, was diagnosed with leukemia in 1972 and died two years later. Anne Rice described her first novel, Interview with a Vampire (1976), as a work of catharsis after the death of Michele. According to Stan, “the history of a blood disease led into images of the vampire.” Two years after the publication of Interview, the couple’s second child, Christopher, was born. Noting the religious connotations of his name, biographers have suggested that Christopher’s birth marked a new beginning for the Rices. With the birth of their son, they also made the decision to give up drinking.
Career as a Novelist
Although Rice has been quoted as saying that she “wrote about vampires on a whim,” she entered into the world of Interview quickly and completely, writing the novel in only five weeks. When she began searching for a publisher, Rice was rejected several times before Knopf published the novel in 1976. In the first year after its publication, Interview earned close to $1 million from hardcover, paperback, and movie deals. Written in an interview format, the novel focuses on the character of Louis, who in 1791 at the age of 25 is made into a vampire by Lestat. In 1985 Rice published her sequel to Interview, The Vampire Lestat, and more vampire novels followed, including The Queen of the Damned (1988) and The Tale of the Body Thief (1992). Noted for their eroticism, the vampire novels developed a cult following.
Rice has also published in other genres, including historical and erotic fiction. In The Feast of All Saints (1979), she addresses racial issues specifically associated with Louisiana’s antebellum caste system. Cry to Heaven, published in 1982, focuses on the Italian castrati—male opera singers castrated in order to maintain their trained soprano voices—of the eighteenth century. She has also written gothic novels not in the vampire tradition, including The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned (1989) and The Witching Hour (1990). Her erotic fiction includes the Beauty series published in the 1980s under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure and Exit to Eden and Belinda under the name Anne Rampling. Rice once explained, “I write about how people can somehow survive … Whether they’re castrati or vampires or free people of color or sadomasochists.”
After living in the San Francisco Bay area for more than twenty-five years, Anne and Stan Rice moved to New Orleans, where they bought a house in the Garden District that became the setting for five of Rice’s novels. In 1994, the film version of Interview with a Vampire was released to great popular success. Rice wrote the screenplay that was the basis for the film, which starred Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, and Tom Cruise. The film Queen of the Damned, which actually combined elements of the novels Queen of the Damned and The Vampire Lestat, opened in 2002, but was less commercially successful.
In 1998 Rice returned to the Catholic Church, ending years of alienation. Four years later, Stan died from brain cancer that had only recently been diagnosed and Rice committed herself to “writing for God.” With the publication of Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt (2005), Rice launched a series of books chronicling the life of Christ. Christ the Lord, The Road to Cana, second in the series, was published in 2008. Later that year she also published Called Out Of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession, in which Rice describes her spiritual life as a child and young woman, her flight from the church, and her eventual return. Only months before Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans area in 2005, Rice moved to California to be closer to her son, Christopher, who is also a novelist.
In 2010 Rice renounced her Catholic faith, explaining that she had struggled to reconcile her own beliefs with the Catholic Church’s positions on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. In the announcement she posted on her Facebook page, Rice declared, “Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.”
On December 11, 2021, Anne Rice died of complications from a stroke. She was eighty years old.