A William Maxwell Portrait: Memories and Appreciations


Three generations of writers celebrate a master whose life and work continue to reverberate in contemporary letters.
William Maxwell, who died in July 2000, was revered as one of the twentieth century's great American writers and a longtime fiction editor at The New Yorker. Now writers who knew Maxwell and were inspired by him—both the man and his work—offer intimate essays, most specifically written for this volume, that "bring him back to ...
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Three generations of writers celebrate a master whose life and work continue to reverberate in contemporary letters.
William Maxwell, who died in July 2000, was revered as one of the twentieth century's great American writers and a longtime fiction editor at The New Yorker. Now writers who knew Maxwell and were inspired by him—both the man and his work—offer intimate essays, most specifically written for this volume, that "bring him back to life, right there in front of us."
Alec Wilkinson writes of Maxwell as mentor; Edward Hirsch remembers him in old age; Charles Baxter illuminates the magnificent novel So Long, See You Tomorrow; Ben Cheever recalls Maxwell and his own father; Donna Tartt vividly describes Maxwell's kindness to herself as a first novelist; and Michael Collier admires him as a supreme literary correspondent. Other appreciations include insightful pieces by Alice Munro, Anthony Hecht, a poem by John Updike, and a brief tribute from Paula Fox. Ending this splendid collection is Maxwell himself, in the unpublished speech "The Writer as Illusionist."
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"When writing about William Maxwell it is easy to make him sound saintly," declares poet Collier. As an award-winning novelist and short story writer and a 40-year New Yorker editor (working with such luminaries as Eudora Welty, John Hersey and John Cheever), Maxwell, who died four years ago at age 92, had much-valued friendships with younger writers, including contributors Donna Tartt, Ben Cheever, Alec Wilkinson, Richard Bausch, Shirley Hazzard, Edward Hirsch and Annabel Davis-Goff (who movingly recalls reading War and Peace to him in his final weeks). Though affectionate and sometimes slightly awestruck, this personal portrait of a scrupulously decent man is necessarily incomplete. While the emphasis is on Maxwell's later years as well as the Midwestern childhood that formed the basis for his fiction, other events, such as a suicide attempt, are only touched on. His fiction receives far fuller investigation: Charles Baxter examines the uniqueness of So Long, See You Tomorrow among autobiographical fiction, and Alice Munro describes a passage by Maxwell as "done with great care and intensity, so that we feel the intensity but not the care." The closing contribution fittingly comes from Maxwell himself. His 1955 college lecture "The Writer as Illusionist" illustrates the sensibility that endeared him as an editor to the contributors here. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Edited by novelist Baxter and poets Michael Collier and Edward Hirsch, this collection of essays celebrates the life and work of William Maxwell, who died in 2000 at age 92. Maxwell worked with many notable writers (e.g., John Cheever, J.D. Salinger, and Eudora Welty) during his 40 years as fiction editor at The New Yorker and was an acclaimed author of novels based on his Midwestern youth. Here he is remembered by three generations of writers, featuring tributes and anecdotes by Donna Tartt, Alice Munro, Paula Fox, and Alec Wilkinson. There are pieces on Maxwell's love of correspondence, analyses of his novels So Long, See You Tomorrow, and Time Will Darken It, and Annabel Davis-Goff's moving account of reading War and Peace to Maxwell during his final days. Maxwell's own 1955 speech, "The Writer as Illusionist," appears at the conclusion. This book is a fitting tribute to a great man of letters. Readers seeking more biographical details should consider Alec Wilkinson's My Mentor: A Young Writer's Friendship with William Maxwell. For larger public and academic libraries.-Ben Bruton, Murray State Univ., KY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393057713
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/19/2004
  • Pages: 236
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Baxter
Charles Baxter lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota.

Michael Collier's The Ledge was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He teaches at the University of Maryland and is the director of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.

Edward Hirsch has published seven books of poems, including Special Orders. He lives in New York City.

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    1. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 13, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B. A., Macalester College, 1969; Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 1974
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

Stolen (poem) 17
Mr. Maxwell 19
Maxwell 34
A story in the dark 48
The dog gets to Dover : William Maxwell as a correspondent 53
Chance 71
The breath of life 86
Something to read when he dies 107
William Maxwell 117
Time will darken it 123
Angel child 135
Grace 161
Reading War and peace to William Maxwell 170
Portrait of the artist as an old man 187
The writer as illusionist 208
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2004

    Great Essays

    Maxwell was such an important writer and, as these essays continually attest to, an important and great friend. The delicate and also fierce insistence on truth in writing and truth in living are what each of these writers -- varied as they may be -- are preoccupied with, when they fondly remember Maxwell. For people who do not know the books of William Maxwell -- this book will, hopefully, send them to 'those' books in a hurry. The essays by Charles Baxter and Alec Wilkinson are particularly beautiful.

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