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Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 12:42 p.m.
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NOTEWORTHY DEATHS

Her Where the Heart Is long a best-seller

By The New York Times

This article was published August 6, 2014 at 4:18 a.m.

Billie Letts, a late-blooming writer whose debut novel, Where the Heart Is, became a best-seller after Oprah Winfrey endorsed it in, 1998 and was the inspiration for a Hollywood film, died on Saturday at a hospital near her home in Tulsa. She was 76.

Her son Tracy Letts, the playwright who won a Pulitzer Prize for the drama August: Osage County, said the cause was pneumonia. Billie Letts recently learned she had acute myeloid leukemia.

Letts was in her 50s and had been teaching college English for more than two decades while writing in her spare time with little success when her fortunes began to change.

In a chance encounter at a writer's conference, an agent encouraged her to develop one of her stories into a novel, about a pregnant teenager who is abandoned by her boyfriend at a Wal-Mart and then hides out there for months until she gives birth. The book was published as Where the Heart Is in 1995 by Grand Central Publishing.

The book received mixed notices. But Winfrey loved it and called Letts to tell her that she wanted to feature the novel on the book club segment of her television show. Soon, Where the Heart Is, which had already come out in paperback, climbed to the top of the New York Times paperback best-seller list. It has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide.

It stayed on the list until well after the film version was released in April 2000.

She published three more novels, including The Honk and Holler Opening Soon (1998) and Shoot the Moon (2004).

Besides her son Tracy, Letts is survived by two other sons, Shawn and Dana.

Metro on 08/06/2014

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