January 21, 2011 | by Natalie Jacoby
Yesterday, we learned that Reynolds Price had passed away following complications from a heart attack on Sunday. Price set all of his books in his home state of North Carolina, where he also taught at Duke University for more than fifty years. In his 1991 interview with The Paris Review, Price discussed his process as a writer:
First, my eyes are my primary teachers. And I assume that this is true for a vast percentage of the human race, certainly for the entire sighted portion. For us, the world enters there—it mainly enters my mind through my eyes, and I make of it what I will and can. The granary, the silo—my garnered experience—begins as stored visual observation … I love to watch the world, and that visual experience becomes, in a way I couldn’t begin to chart or describe, the knowledge I possess; that knowledge produces whatever it is that I write. From the very beginning of my serious adult work, when I was a senior in college, my writing has emerged by a process over which I have almost no more conscious control than over the growth of my fingernails.
A prolific author, Price’s career was nearly cut short because of a battle with spinal cancer from 1984 to 1986. The radiation treatments left him paralyzed from the waist down, and he was unable to focus on reading or writing. As he explained in the interview, he was “deeply stunned and then intent in every cell on healing and lasting.” But he quickly regained focus and, in 1986, finished Kate Vaiden, one of his most beloved novels (and for which he was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award). Even in the most trying times, Price believed in his work: “Writing is a fearsome but grand vocation—potentially healing but likewise deadly. I wouldn’t trade my life for the world.”