The author and narrator of the book. A former drug addict and alcoholic, Lamott has become an author, teacher, mother, and devout Christian. She is heavily influenced by her author father’s bohemian lifestyle. She believes that writing can help create community and lead to personal satisfaction. She also believes that writers are an integral part of society and must have a moral perspective
Anne Lamott’s father. Mr. Lamott’s career as a writer inspires Anne Lamott to write; his illness inspires her first book. When he develops brain cancer, Anne Lamott begins to write her first successful manuscript. He dies a year before the book is published.
The author’s son. Sam is three at the time Bird by Bird is written. Precocious and intelligent, he often speaks his mind, and his words inspire his mother. Lamott frequently mentions him.
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Lamott’s father’s agent. McKee is unimpressed by Lamott’s early work but ultimately she champions Lamott’s first novel.
Lamott’s best friend. Lamott describes Pam’s struggle with breast cancer. Because Pam faces death, she can sift through the monotony of daily life and find the basic essence of experience. Lamott uses her writing to memorialize Pam, whose cancer eventually kills her.
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Pam’s daughter. Because of Rebecca, Pam is particularly distressed about her impending death. Rebecca is also Sam’s friend, and the two often play together.
An unnamed New York editor who initially turns down a draft of Lamott’s book. When Lamott finally gives him an oral explanation of the plot she has in mind, he suggests that she work from that summary instead of from the original draft.
A fellow author who is close to Lamott. Their books are published on the same date, and they provide support for each other. Like Lamott, Carpenter can be cynical about life, but he believes that the most important part of life is establishing connections with those around you.
A friend of Lamott’s. Terry thinks it is more important to act than to be frozen with fear about the potential consequences of an action.
The Successful Writer Friend
A fellow writer whose success and insensitivity regarding money annoy Lamott and make her jealous. Eventually, Lamott comes to terms with her own feelings and tells the friend that she must sever ties with her.
A relative who features in one of Lamott’s childhood memories. Lamott recalls how her aunt, who was going through a painful divorce, tried out a lemonade machine. Her efforts were unsuccessful, but the children sensed her distress and drank the lemonade anyway.
The Bad-Writing Student
A writing student who attempts an experimental writing piece in Lamott’s class. Another student brutally criticizes the experimental piece. The student is hurt by the criticism but does not respond.
The Critical Writing Student
The student who cruelly criticizes the bad-writing student’s piece. A good writer, she believes the experimental piece has no redeeming value and wants to know why everyone is pretending otherwise. She is praised for her honesty, although Lamott notes that she didn’t have to be so harsh.
The Depressed Writer from the Writer’s Group
A former writing student who tells Lamott she is worried that the other members of her group are laughing at her and meeting behind her back. She finds motivation to write when a truly depressed member of the writing group calls her about his problems.
A former alcoholic and gay Jesuit priest. Tom often talks with Lamott about the feeling of liberation he felt when he stopped drinking. Lamott often turns to him for advice and inspiration.
The pastor of Lamott’s church. He counsels Lamott when she becomes too addicted to the publishing process. He tells her that serenity can only come from within, and that while the world cannot provide it, the world also cannot take it away.