Author Joan Frank of Santa Rosa spent the first half of her life gathering material for the second half of her life.
Until she was nearly 40, she lived in exotic locales like Africa and Hawaii and worked in journalism in search of authentic, real-life experience. Then she slid quietly into a late-blooming career as a literary fiction writer.
But for the past few decades, Frank, 57, has made up for lost time by producing four novels, two short story collections and two books of essays that have garnered an impressive array of 43 grants, honors and awards, including the Juniper Prize for Fiction for her latest novel, “All the News I Need” (University of Massachusetts Press, 2017).
“I really started publishing at age 40,” said Frank, the daughter of two native New Yorkers, an English professor father and an artistic mother, who moved to Phoenix before she was born. “But a lot of my friends say I have more books out than anyone they know.”
The new novel, like much of her fiction, focuses on the interior lives of its two main characters: the acerbic Fran, a lonely widow living in Wine Country; and the erudite Ollie, a painfully shy gay man living in San Francisco. Wielding her polished prose and deep insight into loss and mortality, Frank trails these unlikely friends as they embark on a life-changing trip to Paris, which allows them to arrive back home with new eyes.
Reviewer Bob Wake of Coffee Spew called the book “a deep dive into the heart of friendship, of memory and regret, of aging and loss. ... Joan Frank has gifted us with two unforgettable characters in a novel filled to bursting with hard truths and shimmering beauty.”
The book draws inspiration from Frank’s own tragedies — she lost her mother at age 11 and her younger sister in 2014 — and limns the author’s deep passion for travel and music as well as her clear-eyed inquisition of the undignified realities of aging.
“It’s an homage to all of my peers who have lived this long with me, and also, a kind of victory lap,” she said. “The book is trying to come up with a proposal of ways to inhabit what time we have left here.”
As the icing on the éclair this year, the California State Library in Sacramento recognized Frank as an important California writer, purchasing all of her papers and the posthumous copyrights to her books in order to create the Joan Frank Collection. That honor has left the under-the-radar author, who has never been published by a major house, both exhilarated and validated.
“It means my work will live on for generations, protected and preserved,” she said. “It may be better than fame and fortune ... may be.”
In addition to writing fiction, Frank regularly reviews books for the San Francisco Chronicle, has been shopping around an unpublished collection of four novellas and is working on a new essay collection about place and travel.
Since 1996, she has lived in Santa Rosa with her husband, Bob Duxbury, a British-born playwright.
We caught up with Frank in a local coffee shop, where her chic, red glasses and black sheath blouse made her appear more like a transplanted New Yorker than ever, while her natural warmth and open spirit revealed her Western roots.