Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Long-Lived Authors: Harper Lee, Karl Shapiro, Philip Roth

I was talking with another writer the other day, and he was observing that, when he was a very young writer, he often heard other youthful scribblers romanticizing such concepts as "surrendering your life to art" and "living hard and dying young [in relation to writing]."

I understand the romantic appeal of these ideas; on the other hand, in order to write, one does have to remain alive. It's just kind of the way things work.

So I want to say word in favor of writers who live, survive, thrive, and persist--who keep on truckin' and keep on keepin' on. Among them is Harper Lee, author (as you well know) of To Kill A Mockingbird. She recently turned 83. She's kept on writing, but she's chosen not to publish much. Philip Roth is still going strong at . . . age 73, I believe. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., lived into his 80s, as did Karl Shapiro (1913-2000). In fact, a posthumous edition of Karl's last poems was recently published by Texas Review Press. It's called Coda, and it shows how splendidly Shapiro kept writing poetry well into his late 70s. He never lost his eye for detail, his love for the whole lexicon, his confident voice, and his iconoclasm. He stayed funny. Bless his heart.

Stanley Kunitz lived for 100 years and wrote for most of those.

Keep writing and keep living--it's a both/and kind of thing.
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