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Rebuilding a Life—One Utensil at a Time

Alumnae News

In her latest novel, author Patty Friedmann ’68 explores what it means to take responsibility for your actions


Published February 14, 2024

New Orleans-based novelist Patty Friedmann ’68 is best known for her darkly comic stories, acerbic wit, hilarious plotlines, and outrageous characters. Her latest release, One Knife, One Fork, One Spoon (Atmosphere Press, 2023), contains all those elements.

“Renna Newlin is a middle-aged woman who is so soured by a dried-up marriage and too many children that she immerses herself in an illicit sexual affair with a teenage boy,” says Friedmann of One Knife, One Fork, One Spoon’s main character. “But what it’s really about is responsibility. On many levels. Tending children. Sustaining a marriage. Dealing with an accidental pregnancy. But mostly facing one’s own role in a life that falls apart before it gets reassembled in a small way.” ​​

Friedmann, a sixth-generation native of New Orleans, didn’t start writing until the late 1980s, when she skewered the yuppie movement in her first book, Too Smart to Be Rich, a nonfiction humor book with illustrations by famed New Orleans cartoonist Will Bunn (Bunny) Matthews III. Through Too Smart to Be Rich she met her first agent, who sold Friedmann’s first novel, The Exact Image of Mother. “Until I wrote that novel, I was always in awe of people who wrote fiction, because I didn’t know how they did it,” says Friedmann. “What you do is immerse yourself in your imagination, and I didn’t know I had an imagination.”

All of Friedmann’s books take place in New Orleans, and the city itself is an integral part of her work. “I don’t think I could live and write anywhere else,” she says. “No other town has so much centuries-old architecture and French-inspired food, plus quirky neighborhoods that bring out funny, special personalities—New Orleans locals are unlike all others.”

Proudly wearing a Bell Jar T-shirt for our Zoom interview, Friedmann—who lived for a time in the same Haven House third-floor single as Sylvia Plath ’55—keeps in touch with Smith housemates, and returned to campus in 2006 as a keynote speaker at “Home: A Sense of Space, A Sense of Place,” an alumnae symposium inspired by America’s experience with and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In 2022, One Book One New Orleans (OBONO), a nonprofit that promotes adult literacy, announced the creation of the Patty Friedmann Writing Competition, in conjunction with the Peauxdunque Review and the Words and Music Festival, made possible by a gift from Friedmann’s children, Esme Roberson and Werner Friedmann II. The awards will honor her  literary accomplishments and devotion to the city, and acknowledge new writers from the area. At the announcement, OBONO executive director Megan Holt stated, “We are honored to become a part of the literary legacy Patty Friedmann has created. We look forward to celebrating the work of emerging writers for years to come.”

Friedmann has always joked that her last book will indeed be her last book. “I always think I don’t have anything left,” she says. “On the other hand, I have a couple of manuscripts that have been lying around a while.” In the meantime, she hopes that readers of One Knife, One Fork, One Spoon will be sympathetic to the book’s desperate—more than a little inappropriate—protagonist. “In the end, she gets herself an apartment, and gets one knife, one fork, one spoon,” says Friedmann. “That’s all she needs. I hope that readers will see it’s possible just to go take care of yourself.”

Library desk with open book

One Knife, One Fork, One Spoon

Read an excerpt from Friedmann’s latest novel and get a glimpse into the life of protagonist Renna Newlin.

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