In 1950, at the age of twenty-four, William Clark Styron, Jr., wrote to his mentor, Professor William Blackburn of Duke University. The young writer was struggling with his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, and he was nervous about whether his “strain and toil” would amount to anything. “When I mature and broaden,” Styron told Blackburn, “I expect to use the language on as exalted and elevated a level as I can sustain. I believe that a writer should accommodate language to his own peculiar personality, and mine wants to use great words, evocative words, when the situation demands them.”
In 1953, Styron was awarded the Rome Prize of the American Academy in Rome, which crowned him a literary star. In Europe, Styron not only married Rose Burgunder of Baltimore but found himself immersed in a new generation of expatriate writers. His friendship with George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, and James Jones culminated in Styron introducing the debut issue of The Paris Review. Surrounded by young, ambitious litterateurs, Styron wrote in conversation and competition with his peers. As he embarked on a long and celebrated career, Styron was always keenly aware of his growing reputation and his increasing cultural clout. Accordingly, literary critic Alfred Kazin described him, along with Norman Mailer and James Baldwin, as the postwar “super-egotists” who helped transform American letters.
Over the course of the next half-century, Styron would write three more novels, a novella, and two books of nonfiction. His controversial The Confessions of Nat Turner won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize while Sophie’s Choice, the 1980 National Book Award winner, cemented his reputation as one of the greatest American authors of any era. Darkness Visible, Styron’s groundbreaking recounting of his ordeal with depression, not only was a literary triumph but became a landmark in the field.
Part and parcel of Styron’s literary ascendance were his intimate friendships with Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, John and Jackie Kennedy, Henry Miller, George Plimpton, James Jones, Peter Matthiessen, Carlos Fuentes, Wallace Stegner, Robert Penn Warren, Philip Roth, C. Vann Woodward, and many of the other leading writers and intellectuals of the second half of the twentieth century. Styron’s letters to all these personalities appear in this collection. In addition to correspondence dating from the age of eighteen until his final years, Selected Letters of William Styron documents the major events and cultural developments of the twentieth century through letters written by William Styron to some of the people who helped shape that history. Some of the incidents and people Styron writes about in his correspondence include the 1939 world’s fair, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, World War II, the dropping of the atomic bomb, the Korean War, Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, Patrice Lumumba, Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. This incredible volume takes readers on an American journey from FDR to George W. Bush through the trenchant observations of one of the country’s greatest writers. Not only will readers take pleasure in William Styron’s correspondence with and commentary about the people and events that made the past century such a momentous and transformative time, they will also share the writer’s private meditations on the very art of writing.
- Body + Mind + Spirit
- Random House Publishing Group
- December 4, 2012
- December 4, 2012