Lili Anolik ’00 has just published her debut novel, Dark Rooms. It is a story of “sex and murder and glamour set at a New England prep school,” as she describes it. Both a mystery and a coming-of-age story, Anolik wanted to write something that was “heavy on mood and atmospherics … sly and seductive … spooky, and [has] a fairy tale quality.”
The novel was six years in the making. “The writing process was pretty brutal,” Anolik said. “I loved writing the book but it definitely wasn’t a snap.”
Anolik was an English major and tennis player at Princeton, and wrote for The Daily Princetonian her senior year. Princeton, she said, “was hugely influential on my taste and sensibility.” She recalls the many great and inspiring teachers she had — Laura Quinney on film noir, Larry Danson on Shakespeare, Michael Cadden on Irish drama — but also the slow, agonizing process of churning out papers. “I used to spend forever on my papers when I was an undergraduate — was just completely anal retentive and obsessive about them,” she said.
As a contributing editor now at Vanity Fair (a “contributing editor” is actually someone who writes regularly for a publication; it doesn’t involve any editing), Anolik works on profiles and cover stories regularly.
“I think writing for Vanity Fair is the best job in the world. Not only does the magazine give its writers space, it’s respectful of voice. Meaning they don’t mess with your prose!” she said.
The May issue will feature Anolik’s cover story on the actress Sofia Vergara, and she is currently working on a story for the September issue “on a party held for Andy Warhol on an underground railway platform 50 years ago that was also the first public showing of video art.”
“Cover stories are tricky because it’s so easy for them turn out gossip-y or kiss-up-y,” Anolik said. “You want the writing to have energy and snap — to be sensationalist and pulp propulsive and fun to read — but you also want to take the humanist approach to your subject, to always be intelligent and feeling. The ideal I aspire to is Jean Renoir crossed with Quentin Tarantino.”
Meanwhile, Anolik recently sold proposal for a book on Eve Babitz (“the intrepid author and unofficial muse and midwife to L.A.’s 1960s nascent modern art scene,” as the Los Angeles Time calls her) and the non-show business side of Hollywood, and is also ghostwriting a young adult book for Random House. And with two “wild little guys” — aged 5-months and 2-years — to take care of, Anolik is definitely keeping herself busy.