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Selected Letters of William Styronby William Styron
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Rose Styron is a poet, journalist, translator, and human rights activist. She has published three books of poetry: Thieves’ Afternoon, From Summer to Summer, and By Vineyard Light. At the forefront of the field of international human rights since she joined the board of Amnesty International USA in 1970, she has chaired PEN’s Freedom to Write Committee and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Currently, for the Academy of American Poets, she co-chairs, with Meryl Streep, Poetry and the Creative Mind.
R. Blakeslee Gilpin is the author of John Brown Still Lives! America’s Long Reckoning with Violence, Equality, and Change, winner of the C. Vann Woodward Prize for the best dissertation in Southern history. His writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The American Scholar, and The New York Times. An assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, Gilpin specializes in the history, literature, and culture of the American South. He is currently at work on a new biography of William Styron.
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