Anne Rivers Siddons, best-selling author of “Peachtree Road” and a member of the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, has died.
Her stepson David Siddons confirmed her death in the Charleston Post and Courier. He said Siddons, 83, succumbed to lung cancer Wednesday.
She died at her home surrounded by family.
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Born Sybil Anne Rivers on Jan. 9, 1936, in Fairburn to Katherine and Marvin Rivers, a school secretary and a lawyer, respectively, Siddons attended Campbell High School, where she was a cheerleader and homecoming queen.
After graduation she attended Auburn University, where she was a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority and wrote for the student newspaper, The Auburn Plainsman, which famously fired her for writing columns in favor of integration.
The incident inspired the plot for Siddons’ debut novel, “Heartbreak Hotel” (1976), which was made into the feature film “Heart of Dixie,” starring Ally Sheedy, Phoebe Cates and Treat Williams, in 1989.
“She was the epitome of the proper Southern woman she was raised to be,” said her friend and fellow author Cynthia Graubart, “and yet she found herself in the middle of the civil rights movement, and wrote about it, and joined in, and became this incredible figure. She wrote so eloquently about the struggle.”
Before she became an author, though, Siddons worked as an advertising copywriter, and as a writer and editor for Atlanta magazine alongside founder Jim Townsend. In 1966, she married Heyward Siddons, a Princeton graduate and a partner in Phoenix Printing, who made her a stepmother to four boys.
Success as an author came easy to Siddons. In 1974, after reading one of her articles in Atlanta magazine, an editor at Doubleday sent Siddons a letter requesting a manuscript for possible publication.
“I literally thought a friend of mine had stolen some Doubleday stationery,” Siddons told the AJC in 1986.
She sent him a batch of previously published work, a collection of personal essays about her youth, her career and her hometown, and it was published in 1975 under the title “John Chancellor Makes Me Cry.”
Two years later she published the first of her 19 novels, many of them set in Atlanta and all of them centered around strong Southern women. Her most commercially successful novel was “Peachtree Road” (1988), a saga that spans 40 years and follows an ill-fated romance that links two wealthy Buckhead families. “Prince of Tides” author Pat Conroy called it “the Southern novel of our generation.”
Siddons and Conroy were close friends, and their ascension among Atlanta’s literati coincided during a publishing heyday in the city when their mutual friend, Cliff Graubart, owner of the Old New York Book Shop, had a storefront on Piedmont Road and later Juniper Street, where he hosted legendary book signings and parties in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Their social circle also included cookbook authors Nathalie Dupree and Graubart’s wife, Cynthia.
“Annie was a magnificent cook, fed us all, lived in a beautiful house, which none of us did then,” Conroy said about those days in “My Exaggerated Life” (2018), his posthumously published memoir as told to Katherine Clark. “Annie and Heyward’s was this post of civilization that we could always go to, were always invited to. They were an adult couple who were running a household that looked like a household, as opposed to the rest of us who lived in the inside of potato chip bags. If they ever had arguments, I never saw it. If they ever got mad at me, I never knew it. Those two people brought great kindness, great times of happiness into my life.”
In 1993, Siddons published “Hill Towns,” a novel about a band of friends touring Italy that was inspired by the Graubarts’ European honeymoon, on which Conroy, Dupree and the Siddons tagged along.
Also notable among Siddons’ novels is “The House Next Door” (1978) about a woman who moves into a home occupied by an evil presence that preys on its inhabitants’ weaknesses. Made into a TV movie starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Lara Flynn Boyle for Lifetime in 2006, the novel is cited by the master of horror writing, Stephen King, as one of the best horror novels of the 20th century in his nonfiction assessment of the genre, “Danse Macabre” (1981).
Despite her commercial success and her admiring colleagues, Siddons’ work did not garner the critical praise she’d hoped.
“I would like to be taken a little more seriously in New York, but that’s not going to happen,” she told the AJC in 1998. “I will never be considered anything but a regional writer by the New York Times.”
The criticism she received for her third novel, “Fox’s Earth” (1981), was particularly brutal. The manuscript for her follow-up novel was returned by her publisher, who requested a complete rewrite.
“I just couldn’t do it,” she told the AJC. “So I sent the advance back.”
Six years would pass before Siddons published another book, during which time she battled depression. She credited therapy and medication for aiding her recovery and restoring her desire to write, which she did with a vengeance, publishing 11 books over the next 13 years.
Citing traffic, unbridled development and the destruction of historic buildings, Siddons and her husband left Atlanta for Charleston, S.C., in 1998. She divided her time between Charleston and Maine thereafter.
“Atlanta had a very specific feel to it in the ‘60s,” she told the AJC. “It doesn’t have that feel anymore. It seems too homogenized. In Charleston, there’s development, but more historic buildings have been saved here than in any other big city. And here they celebrate the past. They don’t pretend it never happened.”
An unwavering champion of his wife’s work, who read her novels-in-progress aloud every night, Heyward Siddons died after a brief illness in 2014.
“The great, unseeable reward I received from watching the marriage of Heyward and Annie Siddons is to be a witness to the greatest love story it has been a privilege to watch,” Conroy wrote on his website in a piece titled “A Eulogy for a Southern Gentleman.”
Siddons, according to the Post and Courier obituary, is survived by four stepsons: Lee Siddons; Kemble Siddons and his wife, Carol; Rick Siddons and his wife, Julie; David Siddons and his wife, Tracy; and three step-grandchildren.
According to Cynthia Graubart, plans for a service are still incomplete.
AJC.com will update this obituary with funeral arrangements.
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