Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Morning Reading: the gift of life

Mr. J. C. sent this my way and I am grateful. It would have taken me weeks to find it in my own copy of The New York Review of Books - they stack up so.

The following remarks were delivered at a memorial service in New York City on December 16, 2007, for Elizabeth Hardwick, co-founder and advisory editor of The New York Review of Books since 1963.

Darryl Pinckney on Elizabeth Hardwick:

In the fall of 1973, she told her creative writing students at Barnard College, "There are really only two reasons to write: desperation or revenge." She used to tell us that we couldn't be writers if we couldn't be told no, if we couldn't take rejection. We supposed, therefore, that the tone she took with us was merely to get us ready: "I'd rather shoot myself than read that again." That writing could not be taught was clear from the way she shrugged her shoulder and lifted her beautiful eyes after this or that student effort. However, a passion for reading could be shared, week after week. "The only way to learn to write is to read." She brought in Boris Pasternak's Safe Conduct, translated by Beatrice Scott. She said she hated to do something so "pre-Gutenberg," and then began to read to us in a voice that was surprisingly high, loud, and suddenly very Southern:

The beginning of April surprised Moscow in the white stupor of returning winter. On the seventh it began to thaw for the second time, and on the fourteenth when Mayakovsky shot himself, not everyone had yet become accustomed to the novelty of spring.

When she got to the line about the black velvet of the talent in himself, she stopped and threw herself back in her chair, curls trembling. Either we got it or we didn't, but it was clear from the way she struck her breastbone that to get it was, for her, the gift of life.

For the rest of Pinckney's remarks and Joan Didion's, click here.

Read, she said.

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