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Letters & Essays: A-C

Letters & Essays of the Day

Revising One Sentence

By Lydia Davis

This morning I walk around the house feeling happy and I’m struck by what I’m doing. Actually, I’m struck by only one gesture I happen to make, but that one gesture inspires me to write a sentence describing what I have just been doing. This is usually an effective approach in writing because one striking element can be the culmination of a series of more ordinary elements that would not stand on their own.

Postwar Paris: Chronicles of Literary Life

By Alice Adams

Two of the most distinguished American literary artists of their generation—their names as frequently invoked by critics and historians as they are seldom linked—appear here in a conversation that is mostly about being in Pans after the Second World War. The occasion giving rise to this conversation was a late September, 1996, University of Pennsylvania weekend observation of my retirement from the English faculty there. When friends Norman Malier and Richard Wilbur accepted invitations to attend, I suggested talking about this experience that both had often said was personally important, that neither had ever overtly visited in his works, and that happened to have a particular relevance to the Penn audience in that season.

On New York City

By James Agee

In 1939, with New York City playing host to the World’s Fair, Fortune magazine dedicated its July issue to commemorating the event. The issue would be divided into four sections: The People, They Govern Themselves, They Earn a Living, and What Is This City? The project required seventeen in-house writers and eight editors to capture the breadth of the city and its people, from Harlem to Wall Street, and the magazine turned also to a former staffer they regarded as their finest writer, James Agee. He was tasked with composing “tone poems” to introduce each section. In the end, Fortune editor Russell Davenport chose not to run the prose poems, or the foreword that Agee wrote to open the magazine.

Portraits

By Conrad Aiken

 He was a fascinating talker, in spite of the stammer, and he knew everybody. He was a great friend of Bill Williams. You must have heard the story of his broken arm? He called up Williams at Rutherford and said, “I’ve broken my arm. Can I come and stay with you till it heals?” Bill said, “Certainly.” About a month or two went by and Max did nothing about having the cast examined or changed, so finally Bill insisted  on looking at it and discovered that there had never been any broken arm.

 

An Anecdoted Topography of Chance

By Daniel Spoerri and Emmett Williams

In my (Tr. Note l.) room. No. 13 on the fifth floor of the Hotel Carcassonne at 24 Rue Mouffetard, to the right of the entrance door, between the stove and the sink, stands a table that VERA painted blue one day to surprise me. I have set out here to sec what the objects on a section of this table (which I could have made into a snare-picture) (see Appendix II) might suggest to me, what they might spontaneously awaken in me in describing them: the way SHERLOCK HOLMES, starting out with a single object, could solve a crime; (see Appendix III) or historians, after centuries, were able to reconstitute a whole epoch from the most famous fixation in history, Pompeii.

 

The Nineteen-Twenties: An Interior

By Nathan Asch

On the corner made by the boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail and the rue Delambre, across the street from the large and garish Café de la Rotonde, during those earlier days, was the then smaller place called the Cafe du Dôme. The Rotonde had new soft benches and polished tables. On the walls it had paintings of nudes, and still-lives of fruit and flowers, and landscapes of Brittany and the south of France. It had a fancy, spacious washroom with a woman in charge.