Posts Tagged ‘In Memoriam’
April 5, 2014 | by The Paris Review
We have received word that Peter Matthiessen, a founding editor of The Paris Review, died today after a long battle with leukemia. A Zen priest, novelist, environmentalist, and two-time winner of the National Book Award, Peter was a heroic figure to generations of readers, including our own. He lived a life of adventure but was, even in public, the first to admit his vulnerabilities and flaws. As a writer, he held himself to the highest standards—his own—even in the face of incomprehension or disregard. As the most senior member of our board, and the last living founder of the Review, he was unfailing in his encouragement and love of this magazine; we have lost a progenitor, a guiding spirit, and a cherished friend.
You are one of the few writers ever nominated for the National Book Award in both fiction and nonfiction. Define yourself.
I am a writer. A fiction writer who also writes nonfiction on behalf of social and environmental causes or journals about expeditions to wild places. I have written more books of nonfiction because my fiction is an exploratory process—not laborious, merely long and slow and getting slower. In reverse order, Far Tortuga took eight years, At Play in the Fields of the Lord perhaps four, and the early novels no doubt longer than they deserved. Anyway, I have been a fiction writer from the start. For many years I wrote nothing but fiction. My first published story appeared in The Atlantic the year I graduated from college and won the Atlantic firsts prize that year; and on the wings of a second story sale to the same magazine, I acquired a noted literary agent, Bernice Baumgarten, wife of James Gould Cozzens, the author of a best-selling blockbuster called By Love Possessed, whose considerable repute went to the grave with him.
And when did you start your first novel?
Almost at once. It was situated on an island off the New England coast. I had scarcely begun when I realized that what I had here at the very least was the Great American Novel. I sent off the first 150 pages to Bernice and hung around the post office for the next two weeks. At last an answer came. It read as follows: “Dear Peter, James Fenimore Cooper wrote this 150 years ago, only he wrote it better, Yours, Bernice.” On a later occasion, when as a courtesy I sent her the commission on a short story sold in England, she responded unforgettably: “Dear Peter, I’m awfully glad you were able to get rid of this story in Europe, as I don’t think we’d have had much luck with it here. Yours, Bernice.” Both these communications, quoted in their entirety, are burned into my brain forever—doubtless a salutary experience for a brash young writer. I never heard an encouraging word until the day Bernice retired, when she called me in and barked like a Zen master, “I’ve been tough on you because you’re very, very good.” I wanted to sink down and embrace her knees.
March 13, 2014 | by Paul Kalanithi
Remembering Sherwin Nuland, the author of How We Die, who died last week.
I attended the Yale School of Medicine when Shep Nuland taught there, and despite our both being surgeons, I know him best in my capacity as a reader. I don’t recall when I first read How We Die—I was just finishing high school when it came out—but I do know that few books I had read so directly and wholly addressed that fundamental fact of existence: all organisms, whether goldfish or grandchild, die. His description of his grandmother’s illness showed me how the personal, medical, and spiritual all intermingled. As a child, Nuland would play a game in which he indented her skin to see how long it took to resume its shape—a part of the aging process that, along with her newfound shortness of breath, showed her “gradual slide into congestive heart failure … the significant decline in the amount of oxygen that aged blood is capable of taking up from the aged tissues of the aged lung.”
But “what was most evident,” he continued, “was the slow drawing away from life… By the time Bubbeh stopped praying, she had stopped virtually everything else as well.” With her fatal stroke, Shep Nuland remembers Browne’s Religio Medici: “With what strife and pains we come into the world we know not, but ’tis commonly no easy matter to get out of it.” Read More »
March 11, 2014 | by David Mamet
The second of five vignettes.
He lived alone in various houses, and moved from one to the next in response to no discernible stimulus. I assumed that, at some point, he felt it was just “time to move.”
He had lost his first wife, and their young daughter to cancer. And he told me that the terrible thing was not that they were dead, but that they stayed dead. I thought of it often, and think of it oftener since his death.
I’d had a cold and was sleeping in the little guest cubby in the eaves of the attic, and I woke up with an intolerable pain in my chest.
I knew I was dying, and thought, Well, this is a heart attack. It subsided, and I went back to sleep, only to be struck, again, some time later. The next morning a mutual friend called to tell me that Shel had died the night before of a heart attack—in fact, of two heart attacks, some minutes apart.
My wife sent me to have my heart checked out, and its only defect was that it was broken. Read More »
October 3, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
“I had to be more disciplined than ever about my work schedule; after the first book was turned in, I would have approximately ten months to plot, research, and write each novel. The deadline left no wiggle room—my publisher had pre-sold the books to retailers as holiday releases. Nor was there room for error when it came to the factual details of technology, ballistics, and geography. When I wrote Bio-Strike, for instance, I consulted with polymer engineers and geneticists to design a newfangled biological weapon that that would be scientifically feasible. And then there was the more routine stuff of which action thrillers are made. How does a human body react when hit with a bullet of a particular caliber, at a given distance, striking at a particular angle? I had to find out—call a cop, a forensic pathologist, or a trauma room doctor. Winging it wasn’t an option.”
Read more from Jerome Preisler, who cowrote eight novels with Tom Clancy, here.
April 8, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
Documentary filmmaker Les Blank has died, at age seventy-seven. In memoriam, a clip from one of his many films devoted to traditional American music, The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins.
March 22, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
“We live in a society that is in transition from oral to written. There are oral stories that are still there, not exactly in their full magnificence, but still strong in their differentness from written stories. Each mode has its ways and methods and rules. They can reinforce each other; this is the advantage my generation has—we can bring to the written story something of that energy of the story told by word of mouth. This is really one of the contributions our literature has made to contemporary literature.” —Chinua Achebe, the Art of Fiction No. 139