It’s been a big year for author and Palm Beach resident James Patterson: In 2022, he published his autobiography, James Patterson by James Patterson: Stories of My Life, and Run, Rose, Run, the thriller he co-wrote with none other than the beloved Dolly Parton which is being adapted to film by superstar Reese Witherspoon. Through it all, he’s continued his philanthropic work alongside his wife Sue, donating over one million books to students in Florida and across the country, funding scholarships at universities and donating multiple millions of dollars to schools and libraries.
Journalist and author Charles Graeber profiled Patterson for PALMER Vol. 1, available now; get a preview of his story below.
“The only good thing about the coronavirus, for me, is that we were stuck here,” James Patterson said during our freewheeling chat in the office of his Palm Beach home. “I hadn’t really planned on it, but I ended up writing my autobiography.”
Like most of what James Patterson produces, that autobiography is “story after story after story.”
Stories from his childhood in the blue-collar upstate town of Newburgh, New York, not far from the poorhouse where his grandmother worked and lived with Patterson’s father.
Stories of discovering the joy of reading while working overnight shifts at the same Massachusetts mental hospital that housed James Taylor and Robert Lowell.
Stories from his days as a young executive and creative director at a Manhattan advertising agency and his nights sitting in the kitchen of a tiny walk-up apartment, trying to write that first novel and work up the nerve to finally call himself an author.
James Patterson has written a lot of stories in his life. But this is the first time he’s written a story about his life. “And I’m really happy with how it turned out,” Patterson said. “Pretty much everyone who reads it, they go, ‘it is so fricking human and you can relate to it, it’s not what you would expect from someone like’—well, people make assumptions about what someone is like.”
And what, I asked, do people expect James Patterson to be like?
Patterson sighed and took in the view from his office window: 180 degrees of beachfront Atlantic as seen from mega-million prime Palm Beach real estate.
“Well,” he said finally, “You know— a successful asshole.”
And so, it’s my duty to report: I spent the better part of an afternoon with James Patterson. We’d been scheduled for an hour, in and out, but he gave me several, talking until he was nearly late for dinner. He was nice. He even gave me a ride back to my hotel (in his Tesla—Patterson says he feels uncomfortable peacocking around in his wife’s Aston Martin convertible).
My conclusion was not that James Patterson is an asshole.
But there’s no doubt he’s been extremely successful.
At 74 years old, James Patterson is the most commercially successful author in America, a one-man brand and story-telling machine who, for 30 years, has been a near-constant presence on bestseller lists and airport book racks. He’s earned celebrity appreciation (for his last birthday, a singing voicemail from Dolly Parton, and Bill Clinton send a humidor for Christmas one year), and some nice awards (most recently a 2019 National Humanities Medal and a citation issued from the White House formerly occupied by his Mar-a-Lago neighbor down the street). He’s even been a character on The Simpsons.
That success has also earned him a good deal of money—figures vary, but about $750 million dollars is the general idea—placing him somewhere between Elton John and Stephen Curry on the Forbes list of top celebrity earners.
This puts Patterson and his wife Sue in a position to give generously to causes they care about, donating tens of millions of dollars to public schools, libraries, and independent bookstores, and, over the years, sponsoring thousands of scholarships for teacher’s colleges from Michigan to Appalachia to the University of Florida. (“We don’t do buildings,” Patterson explained. “We work hard for the money, and we want to make it as simple and efficient as possible. Our thing is all about reading, and scholarships for kids and stuff. Everything we do is education-oriented.”)
It’s also afforded the Patterson family a place here, in a 23,000 square foot home located next door to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s former hideaway and steps from Rod Stewart’s current palatial pile, on one of the toniest stretches of Palm Beach real estate.
“Yeah, well, it’s big,” Patterson said dismissively of his 1924 waterfront mansion. “But part of me goes, really?”
“I try not to be too judgmental about what other people do; it’s fine. You know, I mean, up to a point. But a big house like this, I find it a bit more ostentatious than I’d like. It’s not my style.” Then Patterson flashed the slightest of grins. “But, also, you know—fuck it.”
Read Charles Graeber‘s full conversation with James Patterson in PALMER Vol. 1, available now.