The pinnacle of Ann Napolitano’s writing career will likely always be the moment she received a personal phone call from the Oprah Winfrey, who promptly informed her that her fourth novel, Hello Beautiful, was the 100th selection for the wildly influential Oprah’s Book Club.
But it all began thanks to another larger-than-life personality: Conn’s Professor Emeritus of English Blanche Boyd.
“I don’t know whether I’d be a writer if it weren’t for those years with Blanche,” Napolitano acknowledges.
“She was the first published writer I ever met. We were all intimidated by her and obsessed with her at the same time,” she continues. “She had a huge impact. I’m eternally grateful.”
That same energy animates how she discusses Hello Beautiful joining Oprah’s Book Club. While its selection was officially announced in March, Napolitano had been keeping the secret since she got the call from Winfrey nearly five months earlier. As she told The New York Times in March, “I felt like I went into full menopause because my whole body system was just adrenalized.” When CC Mag spoke to her recently, that feeling had not faded.
“It’s exciting. It feels sort of surreal just because it’s been a noisier book release than I’ve ever had, which I’m very lucky for, obviously. But it feels like it’s happening to someone else because this couldn’t be happening to me. Surreal really is the most apt thing.”
It may feel surreal for Napolitano, but her career had been steadily building toward this moment. After years of fighting rejection, depression, time and life’s crushing responsibilities, her third novel, Dear Edward, broke through in a big way. Bought at auction by Dial Press, it was her biggest publishing deal to date. Dial proved right to gamble on her, and the book became an immediate New York Times Bestseller after its release in 2020. It wasn’t long after AppleTV+ struck a deal to adapt the novel into a limited series, which hit the streamer in February of this year.
Napolitano considers the adaptation as a wholly separate entity. “I think it is just fun,” she says.
“I respect [show creator Jason Katims] so much as an artist that I was just like, ‘Great.’ I had no anxiety, no worries or anything. My book remains my book. What he did was a delightful adventure from my point of view.”
The one aspect that did sneak up on her was Colin O’Brien’s performance as Edward. “I find that emotional because that was like seeing my heart in a 3D human being,” she recalls.
Despite the first taste of success, the author felt free when sitting down to write again. “I started writing Hello Beautiful right at the start of the pandemic, like April of 2020, so I think the world was so weird that I didn’t have the normal—the world was making no sense,” Napolitano says. “That took away a lot of the structural worries I may have had.”
The resulting novel, a period piece focused on four sisters’ journeys from late adolescence into adulthood, captured Oprah’s attention and has led many to compare it to Little Women.
“Not since Jo and Meg and Amy and Beth have we seen sisters like this, with this kind of connection, and written so vividly that you feel like you’re in that home,” Winfrey told the Times. “You’re experiencing life with them. I am telling you, the ending? I mourned. What an extraordinary writer Ann is.”
While the attention has been at bit overwhelming, Napolitano is thankful it happened at this point in her career.
“I’m glad I’m this age as opposed to in my 20s. I see how fun and exciting it is, and I’m not trying to deflect it or make it overly important as a statement on my own writing quality or anything like that. I just feel incredibly grateful to have this happen.”
She’s also not afraid of what’s next. Sure, being an Oprah Book Club selection is a tough act to follow, but it’s one that Napolitano is already working on.
“For the first nine months to a year, I don’t let myself write what I call pretty sentences, which is what I really love to do,” she explains about her process. “I can’t think analytically or with any sense of perspective when I’m in the work like that. So I have found that reserving the first nine months or so where I’m not allowed to write—I can only research and take notes and try to figure out as much as I can in my brain about this idea—helpful.
“I’m in that phase now for the next one. I have an idea. I have lots of notes. I’m hoping to start writing it in June, but I’m not allowed yet.”
She’s as excited for that ban to lift as her growing collection of new fans.
“Taking the break from writing also makes me so happy to be writing again that I sort of dive back in with gusto.”