Selected Letters of William Styron
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In 1950, at the age of twenty-four, William Clark Styron, Jr., wrote to his mentor, Professor William Blackburn of Duke University. The young writer was struggling with his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, and he was nervous about whether his “strain and toil” would amount to anything. “When I mature and broaden,” Styron told Blackburn, “I expect to use the language on as exalted and elevated a level as I can sustain. I believe that a writer should accommodate language to his own peculiar personality, and mine wants to use great words, evocative words, when the situation demands them.”
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
I wrote twelve masterpieces to equal Tolstoy wouldn’t bat an eye or give me the time of day but who, having seen a cheap piece of quackery on TV which is a travesty of the original, comes all over himself telling me how great I am. Do you want to know what I did? I sent him a large check (CBS money) and a pompous letter telling him to buy some books for the library, if they still had one, and letting him know that I had no fear for American education as long as the likes of him were in the
late. TO HOPE LERESCHE April 18, 1968 Roxbury, CT Dear Hope: Thanks so much for the very informative letter and news of the nice amount of money coming in from all over. I really don’t know if I can make it to London, due to a crowded schedule over here. Just possibly I may be able to come to London between the seventh of May and the fourteenth, but I really can’t be more definite than that at the moment. The book over here has slipped from its #1 spot on the list but is still doing well and
was a Democratic senator from New York and U.S. Attorney General (1961–64). Robert was assassinated during the 1968 presidential campaign. He was survived by his wife, Ethel (b. 1928). The “simple-minded brother-in-law” was Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr. (1915–2011), who helped found the Peace Corps. He was married to John F. Kennedy’s sister Eunice. *cc This was Styron’s first encounter with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1917–2007), an American historian who served as the unofficial chronicler of John
Virginia gentleman who has grown up with the Southern Negro and who speaks his language can dare to penetrate his servile heart.” ‡WW Postcard is inscribed “Aboard the Rosalie L.” ‡XX The film was released in 1970; Styron did not appear in the final cut. ‡YY Thornton Niven Wilder (1897–1975), American playwright and novelist. His novel The Eighth Day (1967) won the National Book Award. ‡ZZ Eugene McCarthy (1916–2005) was a U.S senator who sought the Democratic Party presidential nomination in
self-pity here is not too strong. I don’t mean it to be. I simply think that all this is true, and that is why people like yourself are rare and valuable. Perhaps around 1980, with your help, people will wake up to the fact that we were writing our literature after all. Someone gave me the galleys of Jones’ new book, and I’m sorry to say that I have to agree with you, and even more: I think it is very close to a catastrophe. In “Eternity” he was writing the real McCoy. Here most of the stuff