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Introduction by Cheryl Strayed
It began as things do these days: with a Facebook post. My friend the poet Cate Marvin wrote of her admiration for a writer I’d never heard of, a woman named Julie Hayden. Cate had assigned one of Hayden’s stories to the students in her college class. When I emailed her and asked her to tell me more, she responded with an urgent tone, imploring me to read Hayden’s work, and included a link to a New Yorker fiction podcast of Lorrie Moore reading Hayden’s story “Day-Old Baby Rats.” The story had been published in the New Yorker in January 1972 and three years later it was collected in Hayden’s only book—the long out-of-print The Lists of the Past.
I clicked play and listened. I sat very still and half held my breath. I was rapt.
In the silence that followed the last line of the story I typed writer Julie Hayden into my computer’s search function and was immediately lead to the illuminating essay by S. Kirk Walsh that is reprinted here (it was originally published in the Los Angeles Review of Books). Walsh’s piece begins with a retelling of a story essentially like my own—the almost accidental discovery of a writer who had all but been forgotten. Like me, Walsh was stunned. But more, she was compelled to dig deeper. In moving, sad, fascinating detail, Walsh shares details of Hayden’s short life that she was able to glean after interviewing Hayden’s younger sister, Patsy Hayden Blake, as well as Elizabeth Macklin, Charles McGrath, and Daniel Menaker, Hayden’s colleagues at the New Yorker, where she was employed for twelve years in the 1960s and 1970s.
A graduate of Radcliffe, the daughter of a poet who was both popular and esteemed—her mother, Phyllis McGinley won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1961 for her book Times Three—Hayden committed herself to fiction writing early on, taking notes about the things she felt and observed and crafting stories. In 1970, when Hayden was 31, the first story in this volume, “Walking With Charlie,” appeared in the New Yorker and in the four years that followed another nine of her stories—all of them in this collection—were published there. They, along with two previously unpublished stories, compose The Lists of the Past, which was published by The Viking Press to critical acclaim in 1976.
The acclaim was well-deserved. Hayden’s stories are unlike anything I’ve ever read. Her writing is original and bold, plainspoken and poetic, haunting and profound, merciless and tender. There’s a cavernous loneliness at the core of her work—one that echoes the difficulty of her short life, no doubt—but also a vast beauty, one that I believe must also reflect her inner world. It’s this intelligent, emotional depth and breadth that ultimately convinced me to select this book for re-issue in The Pharos Editions. Hayden isn’t just a dazzling writer. She’s one who has done the real work of great literature: she has shown us to ourselves. She has reminded us again and anew what it means to be human.
Hayden died of kidney failure at the age of 42, five years after The Lists of the Past was published. By then she’d suffered the death of her mother, breast cancer, alcoholism and a long struggle with anxiety that grew debilitating in the final years of her life. What remains is this book, born again in your hands. I hope you’ll treasure it.