Talk Given at The Saints & Sinners Conference, May 2014
Bruce Dern said in a recent interview, "Understand at the very beginning that it is an endurance contest. Nobody makes it overnight. And if they do, they’re gone in a decade."
I myself have not only seen very famous in their time writers come so quickly as to seem like meteors. In fact, I’ve seen entire literary movements come and go. When Midwesterner Saul Bellow moved to New York some people were so upset, one wrote in the Chicago Sun, "we critics made you and we can break you." He turned out to be wrong. Because by then Bellow had found a large and loyal readership. But once the critics turned on Thomas Wolfe, an immense presence in the 1930’s literary world, his literary end followed shortly. Fortunately so did his life. Even today we have not reassessed this particularly American writer’s underrated and unique achievement. The critics turned on F. Scott Fitzgerald and on Henry James and on Tennesee Williams in the end too. But they all continued writing, working toward a single end: the creation of a body of work. As a result we have The Rich Boy and The Loves of the Last Tycoon, Small Craft Warnings and Clothes For a SummerHotel, The Ambassadors and The Wings of the Dove. Aren’t you glad?