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A WILLIAM MAXWELL PORTRAIT: Memories and Appreciations

Charles Baxter, Editor, Michael Collier, Editor, Edward Hirsch, Editor
Charles Baxter, Editor, Michael Collier, Editor, Edward Hirsch, Editor . Norton $23.95 (234p) ISBN 978-0-393-05771-3
Reviewed on: 06/14/2004
Release date: 08/01/2004
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"When writing about William Maxwell it is easy to make him sound saintly," declares poet Collier. As an award-winning novelist and short story writer and a 40-year New Yorker editor (working with such luminaries as Eudora Welty, John Hersey and John Cheever), Maxwell, who died four years ago at age 92, had much-valued friendships with younger writers, including contributors Donna Tartt, Ben Cheever, Alec Wilkinson, Richard Bausch, Shirley Hazzard, Edward Hirsch and Annabel Davis-Goff (who movingly recalls reading War and Peace to him in his final weeks). Though affectionate and sometimes slightly awestruck, this personal portrait of a scrupulously decent man is necessarily incomplete. While the emphasis is on Maxwell's later years as well as the Midwestern childhood that formed the basis for his fiction, other events, such as a suicide attempt, are only touched on. His fiction receives far fuller investigation: Charles Baxter examines the uniqueness of So Long, See You Tomorrow among autobiographical fiction, and Alice Munro describes a passage by Maxwell as "done with great care and intensity, so that we feel the intensity but not the care." The closing contribution fittingly comes from Maxwell himself. His 1955 college lecture "The Writer as Illusionist" illustrates the sensibility that endeared him as an editor to the contributors here. (Aug.)

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