New Orleans and Texas
Born in New Orleans on October 4, 1941, Rice was the second of four daughters of parents of Irish Catholic descent, Howard O’Brien and Katherine “Kay” Allen O’Brien. Her father, a Naval veteran of World War II and lifelong resident of New Orleans, worked as a personnel executive for the U.S. Postal Service and authored one novel, The Impulsive Imp, which was published posthumously. Her older sister, Alice Borchardt, later became an author of fantasy and historical romance novels. Rice spent most of her youth in New Orleans, which forms the backdrop against which many of her works are set. She and her family lived in the rented home of her maternal grandmother, Alice Allen, known as “Mamma Allen,” at 2301 St. Charles Avenue in the Irish Channel, which Rice said was widely considered a “Catholic Ghetto”. Allen, who began working as a domestic shortly after separating from her alcoholic husband, was an important early influence in Rice’s life, keeping the family and household together as Rice’s mother sank deeper into alcoholism. Allen died in 1949, but the O’Briens remained in her home until 1956, when they moved to 2524 St. Charles Avenue, a former rectory, convent, and school owned by the parish, to be closer to both the church and support for Katherine’s addiction. As a young child, Rice studied at St. Alphonsus School, a Catholic institution previously attended by her father. About her male given names, Rice said: Well, my birth name is Howard Allen because apparently my mother thought it was a good idea to name me Howard. My father’s name was Howard, she wanted to name me after Howard, and she thought it was a very interesting thing to do. She was a bit of a Bohemian, a bit of mad woman, a bit of a genius, and a great deal of a great teacher. And she had the idea that naming a woman Howard was going to give that woman an unusual advantage in the world.
However, according to the authorized biography Prism of the Night, by Katherine Ramsland, Rice’s father was the source of his daughter’s birth name: “Thinking back to the days when his own name had been associated with girls, and perhaps in an effort to give it away, Howard named the little girl Howard Allen Frances O’Brien.” Rice became “Anne” on her first day of school, when a nun asked her what her name was. She told the nun “Anne,” which she considered a pretty name. Her mother, who was with her, let it go without correcting her, knowing how self-conscious her daughter was of her real name. From that day on, everyone she knew addressed her as “Anne”, and her name was legally changed in 1947. Rice was confirmed in the Catholic Church when she was twelve years old and took the full name Howard Allen Frances Alphonsus Liguori O’Brien, adding the names of a saint and of an aunt, who was a nun. “I was honored to have my aunt’s name,” she said, “but it was my burden and joy as a child to have strange names.” When Rice was fifteen years old, her mother died as a result of alcoholism. Soon afterward, she and her sisters were placed by their father in St. Joseph Academy. Rice described St. Joseph’s as “something out of Jane Eyre … a dilapidated, awful, medieval type of place. I really hated it and wanted to leave. I felt betrayed by my father.” In November 1957, Rice’s father married Dorothy Van Bever. On the subject of the couple’s first meeting, Rice recalled, “My father wrote her a formal letter inviting her to lunch which I hand-delivered to her house … I was so nervous. In the note he enclosed a pin which she was to wear if she accepted the invitation. The next day she had the pin on.” In 1958, when Rice was sixteen, her father moved the family to north Texas, purchasing their first home in Richardson. Rice first met her future husband, Stan Rice, in a journalism class while they were both students at Richardson High School.
San Francisco and Berkeley
Graduating from Richardson High in 1959, Rice completed her freshman year at Texas Woman’s University in Denton and transferred to North Texas State College for her sophomore year. She dropped out when she ran out of money and was unable to find employment. Soon after, she moved to San Francisco and stayed with the family of a friend until she found work as an insurance claims processor. She persuaded her former roommate from Texas Woman’s University, Ginny Mathis, to join her, and they found an apartment in the Haight-Ashbury district. Mathis acquired a job at the same insurance company as Rice. Soon after, they began taking night courses at University of San Francisco, an all-male Jesuit school that allowed women to take night courses. For Easter vacation Anne returned home to Texas, rekindling her relationship with Stan Rice. After her return to San Francisco, Stan Rice came for a week-long visit during summer break. He returned to Texas, Rice moved back in with the Percys, and Mathis left San Francisco in August to enroll in a nursing program in Oklahoma. Some time later, Anne received a special delivery letter from Stan Rice asking her to marry him. They married on October 14, 1961, in Denton, Texas, soon after she turned twenty years old, and when he was just weeks from his nineteenth birthday. The Rices moved back to San Francisco in 1962, experiencing the birth of the hippie movement firsthand as they lived in the Haight-Ashbury district, Berkeley, and later the Castro District. “I’m a totally conservative person,” she later told The New York Times, “In the middle of Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s, I was typing away while everybody was dropping acid and smoking grass. I was known as my own square.” Rice attended San Francisco State University and obtained a B.A. in political science in 1964. Their daughter Michele, later nicknamed “Mouse”, was born to the couple on September 21, 1966, and Rice later interrupted her graduate studies at SFSU to become a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. She soon became disenchanted with the emphasis on literary criticism and the language requirements. In Rice’s words, “I wanted to be a writer, not a literature student.” Rice returned to San Francisco State in 1970 to finish her studies in creative writing and graduated with an M.A. in 1972. Stan Rice became an instructor at San Francisco State shortly after receiving his own M.A. in creative writing from the institution, and later chaired the creative writing department before retiring in 1988. Her daughter was diagnosed with acute granulocytic leukemia in 1970, while Rice was still in the graduate program. Rice later described having a prophetic dream—months before Michele became ill—that her daughter was dying from “something wrong with her blood.” Michele died in 1972, shortly before she would have turned six. Rice’s son Christopher was born in Berkeley, California, in 1978; he became a best-selling author in his own right, publishing his first novel at the age of 22. Rice, an admitted alcoholic, and her husband, Stan Rice, quit drinking in mid-1979 so their son would not have the life that she had as a child.
Rice cited Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, John Milton, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, the Brontë sisters, Jean-Paul Sartre, Henry James, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, and Stephen King as influences on her work. She repeatedly returned to King’s Firestarter for inspiration, saying “I study the novel, Firestarter whenever I’m blocked. Reading the first few pages of Firestarter helps to get me going.”
Interview with the Vampire
In 1973, while still grieving the loss of her daughter (1966–1972), Rice took a previously written short story and turned it into her first novel, the bestselling Interview with the Vampire. She based her vampires on Gloria Holden’s character in Dracula’s Daughter: “It established to me what vampires were—these elegant, tragic, sensitive people. I was really just going with that feeling when writing Interview With the Vampire. I didn’t do a lot of research.” After completing the novel and following many rejections from publishers, Rice developed obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). She became obsessed with germs, thinking that she contaminated everything she touched, engaged in frequent and obsessive hand washing and obsessively checked locks on windows and doors. Of this period, Rice says, “What you see when you’re in that state is every single flaw in our hygiene and you can’t control it and you go crazy.” In August 1974, after a year of therapy for her OCD, Rice attended the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference at Squaw Valley, conducted by writer Ray Nelson. While at the conference, Rice met her future literary agent, Phyllis Seidel. In October 1974, Seidel sold the publishing rights to Interview with the Vampire to Alfred A. Knopf for a $12,000 advance of the hardcover rights, at a time when most new authors were receiving $2,000 advances. Interview with the Vampire was published in May 1976. In 1977, the Rices traveled to both Europe and Egypt for the first time.
Following the publication of Interview with the Vampire, while living in California, Rice wrote two historical novels, The Feast of All Saints and Cry to Heaven, along with three erotic novels (The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty’s Punishment, and Beauty’s Release) under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure, and two more under the pseudonym Anne Rampling (Exit to Eden and Belinda). Rice then returned to the vampire genre with The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned, her bestselling sequels to Interview with the Vampire. Shortly after her June 1988 return to New Orleans, Rice penned The Witching Hour as an expression of her joy at coming home. Rice also continued her Vampire Chronicles series, which later grew to encompass ten novels, and followed up on The Witching Hour with Lasher and Taltos, completing the Lives of the Mayfair Witches trilogy. She also published Violin, a tale of a ghostly haunting, in 1997. Rice appeared on an episode of The Real World: New Orleans that aired in 2000. Rice called Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, published in 2005, the beginning of a series chronicling the life of Jesus. After moving to Rancho Mirage, California in 2006, Rice wrote a second volume Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, published in March 2008, and was working on a third Christ the Lord: Kingdom of Heaven in November 2008. She also wrote the first two books in her Songs of the Seraphim series, Angel Time and Of Love and Evil, and her memoir Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession. On March 9, 2014, Rice announced on her son Christopher’s radio show, The Dinner Party with Christopher Rice and Eric Shaw Quinn, that she had completed another book in the Vampire Chronicles, titled, Prince Lestat, a “true sequel” to Queen of the Damned. The book was released on October 28, 2014. In 2015, a sequel to the Sleeping Beauty trilogy, Beauty’s Kingdom, was released.
Reception and analysis
Following its debut in 1976, Interview with the Vampire received many negative reviews from critics, causing Rice to retreat temporarily from the supernatural genre. When The Vampire Lestat debuted in 1985, reaction—both from critics and from readers—was more positive, and the first hardcover edition of the book sold 75,000 copies. Upon its publication in 1988, The Queen of the Damned was given an initial hardcover printing of 405,000 copies. The novel was a main selection of the Literary Guild of America for 1988, and reached the #1 spot on The New York Times Best Seller list, staying on the list for more than four months. Rice’s novels are well received by many members of the LGBT+ community, some of whom have perceived her vampire characters as allegorical symbols of isolation and social alienation. Similarly, a reviewer writing for The Boston Globe observed that the vampires of her novels represent “the walking alienated, those of us who, by choice or not, dwell on the fringe.” On the subject, Rice herself commented, “From the beginning, I’ve had gay fans, and gay readers who felt that my works involved a sustained gay allegory … I didn’t set out to do that, but that was what they perceived. So even when Christopher was a little baby, I had gay readers and gay friends and knew gay people, and lived in the Castro district of San Francisco, which was a gay neighborhood.” Rice’s writings have also been identified as having had a major impact on later developments within the genre of vampire fiction.”Rice turns vampire conventions inside out,” wrote Susan Ferraro of The New York Times. “Because Rice identifies with the vampire instead of the victim (reversing the usual focus), the horror for the reader springs from the realization of the monster within the self. Moreover, Rice’s vampires are loquacious philosophers who spend much of eternity debating the nature of good and evil.” In addition, Rice’s writing style has been heavily analyzed. Ferraro, in a statement typical of many reviewers, described Rice’s prose as “florid, both lurid and lyrical, and full of sensuous detail”. However, others have criticized her writing style as both verbose and overly philosophical. Author William Patrick Day comments that her writing is often “long, convoluted, and imprecise”. The New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani wrote that “Anne Rice has what might best be described as a Gothic imagination crossed with a campy taste for the decadent and the bizarre.”
Back to New Orleans and Catholicism
In June 1988, following the success of The Vampire Lestat and with The Queen of the Damned about to be published, the Rices purchased a second home in New Orleans, the Brevard–Rice House, built in 1857 for Albert Hamilton Brevard. Stan took a leave of absence from his teaching, and together they moved to New Orleans. Within months, they decided to make it their permanent home. Rice returned to the Catholic Church in 1998 after decades of atheism. She fell into a coma, later determined to be caused by diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), on December 14, 1998, and nearly died. She was later diagnosed with diabetes mellitus type 1, and was insulin-dependent. Following the advice of her husband, Rice underwent gastric bypass surgery shortly after his death and shed 103 pounds in 2003. Rice nearly died again from an intestinal blockage or bowel obstruction, a common complication of gastric bypass surgery, in 2004. In 2005, Newsweek reported, ” came close to death last year, when she had surgery for an intestinal blockage, and also back in 1998, when she went into a sudden diabetic coma; that same year she returned to the Roman Catholic Church, which she’d left at 18.” Her return did not come with a full embrace of the Church’s stances on social issues; Rice remained a vocal supporter of equality for gay men and lesbians (including marriage rights), as well as abortion rights and birth control, writing extensively on such issues. While promoting her book Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt in October 2005, Rice announced in Newsweek that she would now use her life and talent of writing to glorify her belief in God, but she did not renounce her earlier works, citing a connection in her earlier work with the state of her spiritual life.
In the Author’s Note from Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, Rice states: I had experienced an old-fashioned, strict Roman Catholic childhood in the 1940s and 1950s … we attended daily Mass and Communion in an enormous and magnificently decorated church…. Stained-glass windows, the Latin Mass, the detailed answers to complex questions on good and evil—these things were imprinted on my soul forever…. I left this church at age 18…. I wanted to know what was happening, why so many seemingly good people didn’t believe in any organized religion yet cared passionately about their behavior and value of their lives…. I broke with the church…. I wrote many novels that without my being aware that they reflected my quest for meaning in a world without God.
In her memoir Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession, Rice stated: In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept me from for countless years. I simply let them go. There was the sense, profound and wordless, that if He knew everything I did not have to know everything, and that, in seeking to know everything, I’d been, all of my life, missing the entire point. No social paradox, no historic disaster, no hideous record of injustice or misery should keep me from Him. No question of Scriptural integrity, no torment over the fate of this or that atheist or gay friend, no worry for those condemned and ostracized by my church or any other church should stand between me and Him. The reason? It was magnificently simple: He knew how or why everything happened; He knew the disposition of every single soul. He wasn’t going to let anything happen by accident! Nobody was going to go to Hell by mistake.
Leaving New Orleans
Rice announced that she had made plans to leave New Orleans on her website on January 18, 2004. She cited living alone since the death of her husband and her son moving to California as the reasons for her move. Rice put the largest of her three homes up for sale on January 30, 2004, and moved to a gated community in Kenner, Louisiana. “Simplifying my life, not owning so much, that’s the chief goal”, said Rice. “I’ll no longer be a citizen of New Orleans in the true sense.” She sold two New York City condominiums in March and April 2005. After completing Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, Rice left New Orleans in 2005 shortly before the events of Hurricane Katrina in August. None of her former New Orleans properties were flooded, and Rice remained a vocal advocate for the city and related relief projects.
After leaving New Orleans, Rice first settled in La Jolla, California, describing the weather there as “like heaven” in November 2005. She left La Jolla less than a year after moving there, stating in January 2006 that the weather was too cold. She purchased a six-bedroom home in Rancho Mirage, California in late 2005 and moved there in 2006, allowing her to be closer to her son in Los Angeles. Rice auctioned off her large collection of antique dolls at Thierault’s in Chicago on July 18, 2010. Rice also auctioned off her wardrobe, jewelry, household possessions and collectibles featured in her many books on eBay starting in mid-2010 through early 2011. She sold a large portion of her library collection to Powell’s Books.
Rice died from complications of a stroke at a hospital in Rancho Mirage, California on December 11, 2021, at the age of 80. According to a statement from Rice’s son Christopher Rice, the family planned to inter her at the family mausoleum at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.