Selected Letters of William Styron

Overview

In 1950, at the age of twenty-four, William Clark Styron, Jr., wrote to his mentor, Professor William Blackburn of Duke University. The young writer was struggling with his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, and he was nervous about whether his ?strain and toil? would amount to anything. ?When I mature and broaden,? Styron told Blackburn, ?I expect to use the language on as exalted and elevated a level as I can sustain. I believe that a writer should accommodate language to his own peculiar personality, and mine ...
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Selected Letters of William Styron

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Overview

In 1950, at the age of twenty-four, William Clark Styron, Jr., wrote to his mentor, Professor William Blackburn of Duke University. The young writer was struggling with his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, and he was nervous about whether his “strain and toil” would amount to anything. “When I mature and broaden,” Styron told Blackburn, “I expect to use the language on as exalted and elevated a level as I can sustain. I believe that a writer should accommodate language to his own peculiar personality, and mine wants to use great words, evocative words, when the situation demands them.”
 
In February 1952, Styron was awarded the Prix de Rome of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which crowned him a literary star. In Europe, Styron met and married Rose Burgunder, and found himself immersed in a new generation of expatriate writers. His relationships with George Plimpton and Peter Matthiessen culminated in Styron introducing the debut issue of The Paris Review. Literary critic Alfred Kazin described him as one of the postwar “super-egotists” who helped transform American letters.
 
His controversial The Confessions of Nat Turner won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize, while Sophie’s Choice was awarded the 1980 National Book Award, and Darkness Visible, Styron’s groundbreaking recounting of his ordeal with depression, was not only a literary triumph, but became a landmark in the field.
 
Part and parcel of Styron’s literary ascendance were his friendships with Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, John and Jackie Kennedy, Arthur Miller, James Jones, Carlos Fuentes, Wallace Stegner, Robert Penn Warren, Philip Roth, C. Vann Woodward, and many of the other leading writers and intellectuals of the second half of the twentieth century.
 
This incredible volume takes readers on an American journey from FDR to George W. Bush through the trenchant observations of one of the country’s greatest writers. Not only will readers take pleasure in William Styron’s correspondence with and commentary about the people and events that made the past century such a momentous and transformative time, they will also share the writer’s private meditations on the very art of writing.

Advance praise for Selected Letters of William Styron
 
“I first encountered Bill Styron when, at twenty, I read The Confessions of Nat Turner. Hillary and I became friends with Bill and Rose early in my presidency, but I continued to read him, fascinated by the man and his work, his triumphs and troubles, the brilliant lights and dark corners of his amazing mind. These letters, carefully and lovingly selected by Rose, offer real insight into both the great writer and the good man.”—President Bill Clinton

“The Bill Styron revealed in these letters is altogether the Bill Styron who was a dear friend and esteemed colleague to me for close to fifty years. The humor, the generosity, the loyalty, the self-awareness, the commitment to literature, the openness, the candor about matters closest to him—all are on display in this superb selection of his correspondence. The directness in the artful sentences is such that I felt his beguiling presence all the while that I was enjoying one letter after another.”—Philip Roth
 
“Bill Styron’s letters were never envisioned, far less composed, as part of the Styron oeuvre, yet that is what they turn out to be. Brilliant, passionate, eloquent, insightful, moving, dirty-minded, indignant, and hilarious, they accumulate power in the reading, becoming in themselves a work of literature.”—Peter Matthiessen

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Michael Dirda
However posterity judges Styron as a novelist, he was certainly an exceptionally smart and amusing correspondent. His many letters tend to be long, detailed and zingy with shrewd, lewd and funny remarks…Personalia, literary gossip and stylish prose are what make reading collections of letters fun, and Styron's contain all these…A serious author has only one important obligation: to write the best books he can. Which is just what Styron clearly did. Along the way, he also took time to dash off these terrifically enjoyable letters.
The New York Times Book Review - Blake Bailey
…[a] splendid book…The editors, Rose Styron and R. Blakeslee Gilpin, have done a fine job tracking down letters from archives all over the country, and Gilpin's footnotes are conscientious to a fault.
Publishers Weekly
In an extraordinary editorial feat, Styron’s widow, Rose (From Summer to Summer), a poet, translator, and activist, and University of South Carolina historian Gilpin (John Brown Still Lives!) have collected, transcribed, and annotated this fascinating trove of letters charting Styron’s development as a man and as a novelist. From Duke University through a WWII VD ward to the success of his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, and beyond, Styron emerges as a witty, tender, and intelligent correspondent. It is especially revelatory to hear the earnest voice of the young Styron in letters to his supportive father, as he wrestles with doubt and exaltation. Devotees of American literature will be especially gratified to find missives to a pantheon of 20th-century American greats, including Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, George Plimpton, Dorothy Parker, Robert Penn Warren, and Philip Roth. The letters to Mailer—with whom Styron was close until they had a bitter falling out—and Warren are particularly engaging, with insightful discussions of American literature. Meanwhile, there are beautiful and moving letters to Rose and to his daughter, Susanna. While scholars will discover much material of interest, budding writers will also find inspiration as they follow Styron in his journey from obscurity to bestselling and prize-winning author. (Dec.)
From the Publisher
Advance praise for Selected Letters of William Styron
 
“I first encountered Bill Styron when, at twenty, I read The Confessions of Nat Turner. Hillary and I became friends with Bill and Rose early in my presidency, but I continued to read him, fascinated by the man and his work, his triumphs and troubles, the brilliant lights and dark corners of his amazing mind. These letters, carefully and lovingly selected by Rose, offer real insight into both the great writer and the good man.”—President Bill Clinton

“The Bill Styron revealed in these letters is altogether the Bill Styron who was a dear friend and esteemed colleague to me for close to fifty years. The humor, the generosity, the loyalty, the self-awareness, the commitment to literature, the openness, the candor about matters closest to him—all are on display in this superb selection of his correspondence. The directness in the artful sentences is such that I felt his beguiling presence all the while that I was enjoying one letter after another.”—Philip Roth
 
“Bill Styron’s letters were never envisioned, far less composed, as part of the Styron oeuvre, yet that is what they turn out to be. Brilliant, passionate, eloquent, insightful, moving, dirty-minded, indignant, and hilarious, they accumulate power in the reading, becoming in themselves a work of literature.”—Peter Matthiessen

“These letters open a window into the free workings of a brilliant mind. Composed with humor and profundity, the letters reveal the soul of a great writer, and powerfully suggest that the man never wrote an ill-formed sentence in his life.”—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Library Journal
Edited by Rose Styron, a commendable poet and Styron's wife, with C. Vann Woodward Prize winner R. Blakeslee Gilpin, this selection of letters covers from Styron's ninth year until his death and includes never-before-seen correspondence with the likes of Norman Mailer, Jackie Kennedy, Carlos Fuentes, and Philip Roth. Not a huge printing, but literati will value; it's humbling that this "selected" volume is nearly 700 pages long.
Kirkus Reviews
A good portion of William Styron's personal and business correspondence brought together in one volume. Starting with letters written to his father while at college, this book also includes writings to early girlfriends, an influential professor, Army buddies, other notable authors, fans, agents and others. The author wrote about a wide variety of subjects, including literature, politics, illness and sex. Styron's distaste for critics (particularly those who didn't appreciate his work) was a frequent subject, as were his struggles with writing and self-doubt. With so much ground covered, it is impossible not to learn some fascinating new tidbit about Styron's life. Unfortunately, editors Styron and Gilpin (John Brown Still Lives!: America's Long Reckoning with Violence, Equality, and Change, 2011, etc.) do not include a single letter written to Styron, which leaves many stories half-told. While some of the one-sided correspondence is explained via the frequent footnotes, most of it is not. Gilpin notes in his introduction that footnoted material was kept to a minimum and only included when necessary. However, many footnotes seem inconsequential at best. For instance, Gilpin explains certain facts that seem obvious, such as Shirley Temple's status as a famous child actress. Such notes can be abrasive in a 650-page book, often proving distracting rather than edifying. The William Styron timeline at the beginning, however, is helpful. A great read for Styron devotees, but fans of correspondence will miss the conversational quality of most letter collections.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400068067
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/4/2012
  • Pages: 704
  • Sales rank: 842,046
  • Product dimensions: 6.64 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.72 (d)

Meet the Author

William Styron
Rose Styron is a poet, journalist, translator, and human rights activist. She has published three books of poetry: Thieves’ Afternoon, From Summer to Summer, and By Vineyard Light. At the forefront of the field of international human rights since she joined the board of Amnesty International USA in 1970, she has chaired PEN’s Freedom to Write Committee and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Currently, for the Academy of American Poets, she co-chairs, with Meryl Streep, Poetry and the Creative Mind.
 
R. Blakeslee Gilpin is the author of John Brown Still Lives! America’s Long Reckoning with Violence, Equality, and Change, winner of the C. Vann Woodward Prize for the best dissertation in Southern history. His writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The American Scholar, and The New York Times. An assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, Gilpin specializes in the history, literature, and culture of the American South. He is currently at work on a new biography of William Styron.

Biography

One of the great writers of the generation succeeding that of Hemingway and Faulkner, William Styron is renowned for the elegance of his prose and his powerful moral engagement. His books include Lie Down in Darkness, The Long March, The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie's Choice, This Quiet Dust, and Darkness Visible. He has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, the Howells Medal, and the Edward MacDowell Medal.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      William Clark Styron Jr. (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      Roxbury, Connecticut, and Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 11, 1925
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newport News, Virginia
    1. Date of Death:
      November 1, 2006
    2. Place of Death:
      Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

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