Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Styron once described writing as a "horrible row to hoe." In a masterful collection of Styron's correspondence edited by his widow, Rose, with the literary scholar R. Blakeslee Gilpin, Styron often discusses how he has to force himself to undertake the "tedious and agonizing process," but write he did--and, boy, could he write letters: witty, sarcastic, bawdy, loving, long.
Styron loved to write about the writers he loved (his letters ooze literature) and the ones he doesn't--as an ex-Marine, he could do literary gossip and dirty jokes with the best of them. Many letters went to his writer-friends--Philip Roth, James Jones, James Baldwin, Donald Harington, Peter Matthiessen--but most are to Pop, the father he deeply loved and whose opinion he cherished.
We see Styron as a young editor in New York City, living in a "gloomy dung-heap down in the village" and turning down manuscripts, including Kon-Tiki (he didn't think anyone would read it). Fired from that position, he turns to writing as much as he can, and tells Pop about starting his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness: "I hope when I'm finished with it people will read it." They did, and the reviews were positive--throughout his life, Styron always wrote about the reviews and the critics--earning him a French literary prize and a trip to France, where he became good friends with the Partisan Review crowd.
In 1952, he writes to Pop about a new novel he's undertaken about Nat Turner: "The subject fascinates me." The Confessions of Nat Turner receives accolades, too, but also harsh criticism from black writers; the letters reveal how much that hurt the author. Subsequent letters carefully chart the birth and growth of Sophie's Choice, the seed of which was born when he lived in New York. His later years were plagued with a suicidal depression that forced him "to the very edge of the abyss"--and forced him to write. To his surprise, Darkness Visible, his "slender little volume about lunacy," became one of his most popular books.
Selected Letters of William Styron reveals a hard worker, faithful friend and supporter of young writers, always seeking high quality in his work and the work of others. For young writers and lovers of literature (and Styron in particular), these beautifully edited letters will provide hours of laughter, surprise and learning. --Tom Lavoie
Shelf Talker: A beautifully edited collection of approximately 1,000 letters brings an intimate perspective on how Pulitzer-winner Styron faced the "agonizing process" of writing head-on.