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In February 1952, Styron was awarded the Prix de Rome of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which crowned him a literary star. In Europe, Styron met and married Rose Burgunder, and found himself immersed in a new generation of expatriate writers. His relationships with George Plimpton and Peter Matthiessen culminated in Styron introducing the debut issue of "The Paris Review." Literary critic Alfred Kazin described him as one of the postwar "super-egotists" who helped transform American letters.
His controversial "The Confessions of Nat Turner" won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize, while "Sophie's Choice "was awarded the 1980 National Book Award, and "Darkness Visible, " Styron's groundbreaking recounting of his ordeal with depression, was not only a literary triumph, but became a landmark in the field.
Part and parcel of Styron's literary ascendance were his friendships with Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, John and Jackie Kennedy, Arthur Miller, James Jones, Carlos Fuentes, Wallace Stegner, Robert Penn Warren, Philip Roth, C. Vann Woodward, and many of the other leading writers and intellectuals of the second half of the twentieth century.
This incredible volume takes readers on an American journey from FDR to George W. Bush through the trenchant observations of one of the country's greatest writers. Not only will readers take pleasure in William Styron's correspondence with and commentary about the people and events that made the past century such a momentous and transformative time, they will also share the writer's private meditations on the very art of writing.
Advance praise for "Selected Letters of William Styron"
"I first encountered Bill Styron when, at twenty, I read "The Confessions of Nat Turner." Hillary and I became friends with Bill and Rose early in my presidency, but I continued to read him, fascinated by the man and his work, his triumphs and troubles, the brilliant lights and dark corners of his amazing mind. These letters, carefully and lovingly selected by Rose, offer real insight into both the great writer and the good man."--President Bill Clinton
"The Bill Styron revealed in these letters is altogether the Bill Styron who was a dear friend and esteemed colleague to me for close to fifty years. The humor, the generosity, the loyalty, the self-awareness, the commitment to literature, the openness, the candor about matters closest to him--all are on display in this superb selection of his correspondence. The directness in the artful sentences is such that I felt his beguiling presence all the while that I was enjoying one letter after another."--Philip Roth
"Bill Styron's letters were never envisioned, far less composed, as part of the Styron oeuvre, yet that is what they turn out to be. Brilliant, passionate, eloquent, insightful, moving, dirty-minded, indignant, and hilarious, they accumulate power in the reading, becoming in themselves a work of literature."--Peter Matthiessen
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-10-22
- Reviewer: Staff
In an extraordinary editorial feat, Styron’s widow, Rose (From Summer to Summer), a poet, translator, and activist, and University of South Carolina historian Gilpin (John Brown Still Lives!) have collected, transcribed, and annotated this fascinating trove of letters charting Styron’s development as a man and as a novelist. From Duke University through a WWII VD ward to the success of his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, and beyond, Styron emerges as a witty, tender, and intelligent correspondent. It is especially revelatory to hear the earnest voice of the young Styron in letters to his supportive father, as he wrestles with doubt and exaltation. Devotees of American literature will be especially gratified to find missives to a pantheon of 20th-century American greats, including Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, George Plimpton, Dorothy Parker, Robert Penn Warren, and Philip Roth. The letters to Mailer—with whom Styron was close until they had a bitter falling out—and Warren are particularly engaging, with insightful discussions of American literature. Meanwhile, there are beautiful and moving letters to Rose and to his daughter, Susanna. While scholars will discover much material of interest, budding writers will also find inspiration as they follow Styron in his journey from obscurity to bestselling and prize-winning author. (Dec.)
Top-of-the-stack selections for the serious reader
Literature lovers have cause to rejoice this holiday season, with riches aplenty in the way of new releases. Need a gift that will impress your favorite bibliophile? Here’s your cheat sheet for holiday shopping!
Since its debut in 1953, The Paris Review has served as a platform for outstanding fiction. A terrific new collection pairs gems from the journal’s archives with expert analysis. For Object Lessons, 20 of today’s top authors picked their favorite stories from the review and composed introductory essays about each work. The contributors—including Wells Tower, Ali Smith and Jonathan Lethem—offer critical praise and sterling insights into the craft of fiction writing. In his essay on James Salter’s “Bangkok,” Dave Eggers describes the story as “an eight-page master class in dialogue.” For Jeffrey Eugenides, the Denis Johnson classic “Car Crash While Hitchhiking” succeeds in part because of the author’s instinct for “knowing what to leave out” of the narrative. Object Lessons will appeal to both aspiring writers and lovers of the short story form.
KING OF THE ROAD, AND MORE
Author of On the Road, the 1957 novel that immortalized the edgy, uninhibited nature and questing sensibility of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac never seems to lose his allure. Yet, as Joyce Johnson demonstrates in her thoughtful new biography, The Voice Is All, there’s more to the Kerouac myth than meets the eye. Beneath his reckless exterior was a committed artist who took his craft seriously. A former flame of Kerouac’s, Johnson had rare access to her subject, and she draws on personal recollections, important Beat writings and newly available archival materials to create a compelling portrait of the author’s early years, the factors that shaped him as a writer and his quest for an authentic authorial voice. “Jack’s voice was his center,” Johnson says. “Outside that center was chaos.” The Voice Is All is an invaluable biography that gives an icon of cool some well-deserved critical validation.
WHAT WRITERS ARE READING
For bibliophiles, this is bliss: My Ideal Bookshelf, an irresistible new anthology, features the favorite literary selections of more than 100 artists and writers. Providing a peek at the private libraries of David Sedaris, Junot Dí az, Rosanne Cash and other notables, the volume includes brief interviews with the participants, who discuss the significance of their picks. “I derive strength from these books,” Jennifer Egan says of her selections, which include Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy—both narratives that demonstrate “how flexible the novel form is.” Photographer William Wegman chose titles he loved as a kid—science texts, encyclopedias, a Hardy Boys mystery. “These books are nostalgic for me,” he explains. “That’s the spell.” Jane Mount’s stylish illustrations of the selected titles—spines colorfully rendered, typefaces faithfully reproduced—underscore the allure that books possess as objets d’art. My Ideal Bookshelf is a treat from cover to cover.
LETTERS FROM A LITERARY LIFE
While she was editing material for Selected Letters of William Styron, Rose Styron, widow of the acclaimed author, had a revelation about her husband: “I realized that half the endless hours I thought he was working on novels . . . he was actually writing letters.” Spanning almost six decades, the book is an intriguing chronicle of one writer’s interaction with his peers, including Henry Miller, Philip Roth, George Plimpton and Robert Penn Warren. Styron, who died in 2006, earned numerous honors for his fiction, including a Pulitzer Prize for The Confessions of Nat Turner and a National Book Award for Sophie’s Choice. The letters document his student days at Duke University, his steady artistic ascent and his path as a world traveler. They’re studded with classic anecdotes—the stuff from which literary legends are spun. Styron spots T.S. Eliot on a London subway, engages in a verbal brawl with Norman Mailer and locks horns with Harold Bloom, whom he refers to as “a foolish ass of a Yale professor.” Offering an in-depth look at the esteemed author, this collection proves that letter-writing is indeed an art.
A CRIMINAL COLLECTION
Mystery aficionados will be captivated by Books to Die For, a spine-tingling anthology edited by two masters of the genre, John Connolly and Declan Burke. In this one-of-a-kind collection, today’s crime pros offer insights into their favorite works of suspense. The collection kicks off with essays on books that were foundational to the genre (such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), then moves on to the the heyday of hardboiled crime fiction with contributions from David Peace, Michael Connelly and Laura Lippman on classics like Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister. Moving decade by decade, this expansive anthology offers plenty of surprises. Pieces on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (contributed by Minette Walters and Tana French, respectively) underscore the breadth of the mystery genre and the ingenuity of its practitioners. With essays from 119 authors, Books to Die For will thrill any mystery enthusiast.
NEW LIFE FOR CLASSIC TALE
They’ve been in circulation for two centuries, yet the Grimms’ fairy tales feel more vital than ever. Now, in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Philip Pullman, himself a spinner of fabulous stories, retells 50 time-tested favorites. In his hands, the simple magnificence of stories like “Cinderella” and “Rapunzel” shines through. He successfully channels the unsettling mix of innocence and perversity, horror and delight for which the tales are famous. In addition to the standards, Pullman shares less prominent stories, including two spellbinding little selections whose startling titles speak for themselves: “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” Beguiling from beginning to end, Pullman’s skillful retellings will surely enchant the book lover on your gift list.