Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Stashed Between The Pages

    I am still finding letters and photos sealed between pages of books in the attic. From Ancestors, a 1971 novel written by the legendary New Yorker editor William Maxwell, quite a few things had been stashed for years. The most interesting are a pair of letters written to dad's step-father John O'Hara. The first is an undated letter ( probably between 1965-1969) from Pulitizer Prize winning novelist James Michener:

Dear John, 

I had the pleasure last week of hearing your step-son handle himself rather well at the forum for critics and writers. He had a tart tongue, defended his work modestly yet with vigor, and showed a sense of humor to boot. You should be proud of him, because he gave every impression of being a long-time worker. It's good to see such fellows coming along. 
Sincerely, Jim Michener

Then from Maxwell to O'Hara in another undated letter but clearly before The New Yorker's 1962 publication of "So Much Unfairness In Things":

   Court seemed to me, both in what he showed me and in what he said, so close to the edge of becoming a writer that I am going to try and see if I can beat him into it. He is the first youngster I have talked to in I don't know how many years who seemed unafraid to commit himself and unafraid of the labor of writing. He has studied you, to considerable advantage- that is, he has learned how not to be boring. If I can find his rightful material he ought to turn out all right. He strikes me as the kind of person who would be happier as a writer than something else.

   There are also three more letters from Maxwell from 1969, 1974 and 1975. The first was sent to Rural Route #5 outside Iowa City where Dad was teaching at the Writer's Workshop, happily married to Sam, and slogging his way through novel number 2: The Great Dethriffe:

    The manuscript hasn't turned up yet, but it probably will this week, and I will write you as soon as I have read it. Meanwhile, you might write in pencil on the wall above your desk the motto of our family : " Leg over leg and the dog got to Dover." It applies to everything, but to novels most of all.

   That may be the most quoted motto in our family as well. We're using it today as we try to sell a house. The letter ends on an affectionate note.

   Not having sons, I find I can't begin to tell you how gratifying that you should choose me as the old block you are a chip off.
  Yours affectionately also, B.M.

1 comment:

  1. Still... those Dear John letters are so distressing. :)