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Letters & Essays: A-C

Letters & Essays of the Day

If You Are Permanently Lost

By Molly McCully Brown

I never have any idea where I am. I lived my whole childhood in the purple foothills of the same five-square-mile town and I still couldn’t tell you whether you turn left or right on the single thruway to get to the grade school or the grocery store, or how to find the houses of any of my childhood friends. I can’t tell you how to find the conspicuously modern angles of the apartment building in the small Mississippi town where I lived for three years in graduate school, or even easily direct you from my old house in Austin to the bright little bar where I wrote much of my first book. I never know how far I am from the airport or the highway. I can’t read a map effectively, and even though it’s less than half a mile from my current apartment in London, I couldn’t get to the Thames without the artificial voice on my cell phone—set to an Australian accent so its omnipresence is less tiresome—­calling out turn left every 250 feet. Half the time, to remember which way is left, I have to imagine for an instant that I am picking up a pen.

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.

 

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.