Article Archive: The Literary Life

Articles from Poet & Writers Magazine include material from the print edition plus exclusive online-only material.

The Perils of Writing Close to Home: Truth vs. Fiction

by
Ginger Strand
9.1.05

At no time on my book tour did I jump up and down, wave my fists, and scream, “It’s a novel! That means fiction!” At least I don’t think I did. It’s hard to be sure, because, in my head, I had that tantrum about three times daily as I traveled from town to town in southern Michigan, reading, signing books, and attending the Ann Arbor Book Festival. You see, my novel, Flight, was set in that region, where I had lived during my high school and college years.

 

Notes of a Native Son: Chronicle of a Collaboration

by
Sol Stein
7.1.04

Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin’s best-known book, was published in 1955 by Beacon Press. Baldwin’s editor then was Sol Stein, whom he’d known since high school. This essay is an excerpt from Stein’s Introduction to Native Sons by Baldwin and Stein, which will be published by One World, an imprint of Random House, next month. The book includes correspondence between Stein and Baldwin that produced Notes of a Native Son.

My Father's Garden: Tending a Literary Legacy

by
Sebastian Matthews
3.1.04

Only weeks before he turned 55, my father, the poet William Matthews, delivered a manuscript of poems to Peter Davison, his longtime friend and editor at Houghton Mifflin. It turned out to be the last book he wrote. He died of a heart attack on November 12, 1997, the day after his birthday.

"All Trees Are Oak Trees.…": Introductions to Literature

Writers who hang out in academia to help pay the rent are likely to find that their job description comes to include inviting other writers to visit their campus and then hosting them through their visit, introducing them to their lecture audience, and sitting in on the informal sessions with students that typically complete the visitor's tour of duty. Such visitations are, I believe, a generally worthwhile feature of any college writing program: beneficial to the visitor, obviously, who gets paid or otherwise rewarded and may possibly gain a few additional readers; potentially enlightening for the visitor's audience (even those whose curiosity may be more sociological, anthropological, or even clinical than literary); and at least marginally beneficial for the host as well, as I shall attempt to illustrate.

Jimmy's Place: A Haven on Water Street

by
Sarah Gorham
3.1.03

When James Merrill died in 1994, he willed his large, turn-of-the-century house on Water Street to the Borough of Stonington, Connecticut. The village improvement committee was free to use the building any way it desired; Merrill made no stipulation in his will. But the National Book Award–winning poet had been an important figure in the village's ongoing literary tradition. The committee decided to keep Merrill's legacy alive by creating a writer-in-residence program. Since 1996, a lucky poet or scholar has lived, for either six months or a full year, in Merrill's curious home across from the harbor. Writers chosen for residency are notified more than a year in advance. Several Merrill House residents have reported "the happiest period of my life," surrounded by Merrill's books and knickknacks, far removed from the snarl of city life—Boston, New York, or Louisville, in our case.

On Essays: Literature’s Most Misunderstood Form

by
Michael Depp
7.1.02

This is not an essay. Though maybe, in a way, it is. Because it's a strange thing about essays—even talking about them, trying to get at what they are, it's hard not to cleave to the spirit of the essay, that inconclusive, most outwardly formless of forms, which spills and seeps into so many other kinds of writing-memoir, feature, commentary, review—and punctuates every assertion with a qualification, a measure of doubt, an alternate possibility.

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