Wright Morris

As promised in my “Writer’s Writers” post yesterday I’d like to talk about the writers on the list who toiled in anonymity. Wright Morris (1910-1998) was born in Nebraska, and the Plains were his main theme. I first heard of him way back in my drinking days when I was a callow aspiring poet who hadn’t written very much of anything. A guy I met in a bar, Bob Groves, was the person who first uttered his name; he was a reporter for the now defunct “Courier Express,” Buffalo’s venerated morning newspaper. Depending on what time you caught him, Bob could be very interesting, when he was in his cups you wanted to stay away. A failed writer he said he had no talent, which he blamed for his drinking; we often talked about writers, and one night he mentioned Wright Morris, whom I’d never heard of. I respected his literary opinion and set out to find one of his books, which sadly were mostly out of print. Buffalo has a very good Central Library and since I like to start at the beginning, I began with his first book, “My Uncle Dudley.” I liked it right away, it being a road book featuring a young boy and his somewhat shady uncle and his nefarious ways. I went on to read most all of his works (over 30), with my favorites being “My Uncle Dudley,” “Plains Song,” and “Ceremony in Lone Tree.” He was also a great photographer, wrote a multi-volume memoir, and experimented with the narrative form in many different ways. His writing is timeless in the way he shows how things once were and will never be again: frozen water on the water barrel, home burials, weddings, and funerals, hard unremunerative farm work, arranged marriages, harsh winters and unrelenting summers. His prose is quietly immaculate, concise, a pleasure to read, but while he won many awards he was unread. I know of no one except myself (and possibly Bob Groves) who has read him, although I have recommended him time and again. If this piece in some small way rectifies that, I would be very happy.

Writer’s Writers

A writer’s writer isn’t just an excellent writer, but a writer who is admired/appreciated/respected by other writers, but may not be by the general public, a writer you can LEARN from. To that end, I will create a short list of those writers (prose only for now) I put in this category (its purely subjective of course), and then will devote a daily entry to each, explaining why they belong. I welcome any and all names you would like to add to my list. Forthwith is the list (in no particular order):

                                                       Wright Morris

                                                        Richard Yates

                                                       Thomas Bernhard

                                                        Peter Handke

                                                        John Williams

                                                        William Faulkner

                                                        Sherwood Anderson

                                                         Christina Stead

                                                         Flannery O’Connor

                                                         James Purdy

                                                         Virginia Woolf

                                                         Henry David Thoreau

                                                         Karl Ove Knausgaard

                                                         Samuel Beckett

                                                         David Markson

                                                         Jane Austen