Anne Rice, 1941 — 2021

It’s hard to imagine our current pop culture landscape without her. Angel, Edward Cullen, Stefan Salvatore, vampire Bill—these soulful vampires and many more can trace at least some part of their lineage back to Anne Rice’s 1976 debut novel Interview with the Vampire. The book spawned many sequels, a 1994 movie starring the unlikely duo of Tom Cruise (as Lestat) and Brad Pitt (as sad vamp boy Louis), and the purchase of more crushed velvet and lace than can possibly be quantified.

Rice died on December 11th due to complications from a stroke. Her son, Christopher, wrote on his mother’s popular Facebook page, “As my mother, her support for me was unconditional—she taught me to embrace my dreams, reject conformity and challenge the dark voices of fear and self-doubt. As a writer, she taught me to defy genre boundaries and surrender to my obsessive passions.”

Rice was born Howard Allen O’Brien (she was named for her father, but changed her name to Anne before first grade) on October 4, 1941, in New Orleans. Her family was Roman Catholic, which influenced her writing and fueled her imagination, though she grew disillusioned with the church, telling The New York Times in 1988, “I have a great deal of anger against a church that would teach kids a 7-year-old could burn in hell for French kissing, right alongside a Nazi sadist.”

In 1961, she married Stan Rice, a poet, who proposed in a letter. The pair lived in San Francisco, where Anne studied at San Francisco State University. Their daughter Michelle was born in 1966, and son Christopher in 1978. But Christopher never met his sister, who died of leukemia just before she turned six.

Interview With the Vampire was written in the wake of that grief. In a 1993 interview, Rice said, “I wanted to write and write and write, and pour out my emotions, and make stories, and create something. That was my response to seeing something die and something pass out of my hands like that, and seeing this beautiful child die, no matter what I did or anybody else did.”

Interview famously includes a vampire, Claudia, who looks like a child but is older than her apparent years. Still, she meets a tragic fate while still relatively young. (Rice has said she didn’t connect Claudia and Michelle while she was writing.) The film Dracula’s Daughter was another major influence: “It established to me what vampires were—these elegant, tragic, sensitive people,” she told The Daily Beast. “I was really just going with that feeling when writing Interview With the Vampire. I didn’t do a lot of research.”

In the novel, a reporter speaks with Louis de Pointe du Lac about his long vampiric life and his relationship with his vampire sire, Lestat de Lioncourt. Initial reviews were mixed, but the rest is history: The book went on to sell millions of copies and spawn almost a dozen sequels. Almost a decade later, she returned to the story with The Vampire Lestat (1985) and The Queen of the Damned (1988), which debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and stayed on the list for 17 weeks. (It was also made into a movie.)

“Long before Twilight or True Blood,” The Washington Post wrote, “Rice introduced sumptuous romance, female sexuality and queerness—many took Interview With the Vampire as an allegory for homosexuality—to the supernatural genre.”

Rice wrote more than 30 books, including the Mayfair Witches series, which, alongside the Vampire Chronicles, is currently in development at AMC. Between Vampire and Lestat, she wrote the stand-alone novels Feast of All Saints and Cry to Heaven, and, under the name A. N. Roquelaure, the Sleeping Beauty novels. Vampire fans who picked up these books—an extremely sexually explicit fairy-tale story about sexual bondage—were in for a surprise (and an education, if you happened to be a young teen in a pre-internet era who knew Roquelaure was Anne Rice but knew nothing about the books themselves).

‘What matters to me is that people know that my books are serious and that they are meant to make a difference and that they are meant to be literature,” Rice told The New York Times in 1990. ”Whether that’s stupid or pretentious-sounding, I don’t care. They are meant to be in those backpacks on the Berkeley campus, along with Casteneda and Tolstoy and anybody else. When I get dismissed as a ‘pop’ writer I go crazy.”

But books can be both of these things, pop and literature, and that combination is arguably one of the reasons why Rice’s tales have the staying power they do. Another is that they offered something that was once much more difficult to find: “I remember reading The Vampire Armand and thinking, is this allowed?wrote K.M. Szpara. “I’d never read a book where men loved and made love to one another. Voluptuous and erotic, as promised. Did no one else know about this? Did my mother, a certified grown-up, know these books were full of gay vampire fucking?”

There’s too much to say about Rice’s life and persona—she occasionally showed up to readings in her beloved New Orleans in a coffin—to have even a chance of including it all here. But she taught generations to love horny vampires, was unmistakably herself throughout a storied and colorful career, and still isn’t quite done: Ramses the Damned: The Reign of Osiris, co-authored with her son Christopher, is due out in February.

A public memorial will take place next year in New Orleans. Start planning your outfits now, friends.

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