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Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016 11:44 am

Fitzgerald and Maxwell, from the archives

Alert readers will know that two mid-Illinois writers, translator and poet Robert S. Fitzgerald and Lincoln novelists and editor William Maxwell, have been much talked about in these pages over the years. I essayed a piece about Fitzgerald’s boyhood in the capital (“All is not well forever”) in 2009 and in 2012 the late Rich Shereikis reviewed a book of conversations with Maxwell (“Spare and elegant: The William Maxwell Style”) by Shereikis’ former student Barbara Burkhardt.

For no reasons in particular, I thought I would link curious readers to the archives of the venerable and still important Paris Review, which contain that hournal’s conversations with each man.

First, Lincoln’s William Maxwell, who spoke, among other things, about his novel, So Long, See You Tomorrow.


I felt that in this century the first-person narrator has to be a character and not just a narrative device. So I used myself as the “I” and the result was two stories, my own and Cletus Smith’s, and I knew they had to be structurally combined, but how? One day I was in our house in Westchester County, and I was sitting on the side of the bed putting my shoes on, half stupefied after a nap and thinking, If I sit on the edge of the bed I will ruin the mattress, when my attention was caught by a book. I opened it and read part of a long letter from Giacometti to Matisse describing how he came to do a certain piece of sculpture—Palace at 4 a.m.—it’s in the Museum of Modern Art—and I said, “There’s my novel!” 

 The second features Fitzgerald, who was asked what made him want to become a writer.

 I don’t think it comes on that way . . . wanting to be a writer. You find yourself at a certain point making something in writing, and this seems to be great fun. I guess in high school—this was in Springfield, Illinois—I discovered that I could put words together and the results were pleasing to me. 

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