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Richard Elman, Author
Richard Elman, Author State University of New York Press $53.5 (277p) ISBN 978-0-7914-3879-4
Reviewed on: 06/29/1998
Release date: 07/01/1998
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What sets this work apart from other recent memoirs is that Elman (Tar Beach) is finally less revealing of himself than of his cultural milieu. Through brief essays, Elman records his encounters with a range of important and interesting public figures--mostly other writers but also musicians, actors and politicians. As a poetry student of Yvor Winters, Elman was housemates with Alexander Kerensky and classmates with Tillie Olson and the British poet Thom Gunn, while in New York as a freelancer Elman cultivated a relationship with his hero Isaac Bashevis Singer and crossed paths with the likes of Walker Evans, Robert Lowell and Faye Dunaway. If Elman is often candidly critical of his subjects--he writes that Hunter Thompson had little to say about Las Vegas that a kindergartner didn't already know--he is equally critical of himself and quotes Singer's assertion that ""it's hard to be a writer without gifts,"" while musing that perhaps he, Elman, should study for a profession. One thing Elman provides, if apparently inadvertently, is a fascinating history of the ""listener-sponsored"" Pacifica Radio Foundation, for which Elman produced pieces on James Agee and Hart Crane. Elman is both poignant, as when he recalls finally meeting the other, better known Richard Ellmann--a gathering that included Hannah Arendt, Dwight MacDonald and Daniel Bell--and bawdy, as when he describes how Little Richard masturbated twice during an interview. Not all of the anecdotes in this collection are substantive enough to stand alone, but read together they are engaging and enlightening. (July)
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