Content Tagged ‘Eudora Welty’

Shining prose, timeless insights

March 2, 2016 | 2 Comments

Shirley Showalter’s ‘Blush’

October 17, 2013 | 22 Comments

Though Shirley means “bright meadow,” fitting for a “plain” (Mennonite) girl growing up in the 1950s and ’60s on a Pennsylvania dairy farm, Shirley Hershey Showalter was actually named after Shirley Temple. The divided roots of her first name epitomize the tensions that animate her memoir, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.

Showalter’s faith community both nurtured and frustrated her as she sought to reconcile its conservative values with her desire for gaudier self-expression. Caught between her plain church and the glittering world, in her discomfort Showalter often blushed. The depiction in the life of a fortunate Mennonite girl of this everlasting human conflict, essentially between communal duties and individual ambition, is what makes her story both universal and timeless.

Showalter has said her riskiest words in Blush are its first:

“Ever since I was little, I wanted to be big. Not just big as in tall, but big as in important, successful, influential. I wanted to be seen and listened to. I wanted to make a splash in the world.”

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My top 10 essays of all time

September 14, 2013 | 11 Comments

Not that you asked. Yet who can resist such lists? Not me. Even if they are ridiculous. There are so many great essays, how can any reader limit himself to ten? Imagine doing that with short stories. But recently I got sucked into reading a list of others’ favorites, and so I made my own. Even as I wrote it, I began to disagree with it.

My top essays are listed in more or less chronological order—but also somewhat in rank order, only because an essay like “Never Thirteen,” a source for me of such delight and admiration, is so recent that no one else, to my knowledge, has ratified its greatness. So I am ahead of the curve—or just quirky. And seeing someone expose his peculiar taste is a good reason to read his list.

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Lindbergh, 1927

Ray Bradbury: “Style is truth”

August 3, 2013 | 6 Comments

I’m on the road as I post this, headed for Berkeley, California, where our son is entering graduate school; one of my sisters just moved across the way, to San Francisco. My wife and I are driving cross country from Ohio. An adventure! We’ve stopped for the night in Miami, Oklahoma, which is hot and crowded with casinos. I feel at home, though, because the folks are friendly and because my Mom was from Oklahoma. This afternoon in central Missouri I knew we were getting into the West because when we stopped in the backwater of Buffalo for a soda, I noticed in the McDonald’s a row of stools had real leather kids’ saddles for seats.

We reserved a modest vehicle for this trip, but the guy at the rental company said we’d probably be uncomfortable crossing the desert and might have difficulty getting over the mountains. In fact, he implied, we might die. So we rented, for only $20 more a day, a huge (to us) Lincoln Navigator. It is black, and terrifying. We feel like real Americans at last. But will we be safe in San Francisco ensconced in such an SUV? We look like Secret Service, or drug dealers. Or both.

I’m working on a book review on the road, and meantime here is a summer roundup of stuff I’ve found interesting.

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Klinkenborg’s hymn to prose

August 26, 2012 | 15 Comments

Verlyn Klinkenborg’s long poem celebrates short sentences. The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Back Bay Books, 224 pp. Several Short Sentences About Writing by Veryln Klinkenborg. Knopf, 224 pp. “You’ll make long sentences again, but they’ll be short sentences at heart,” writes Verlyn Klinkenborg in Several Short Sentences About Writing. Is that wise and poetic or opaque and unhelpful? This passage from Klinkenborg’s The Rural Life, 2003, may show what he means: The Fourth of July steals over a small …

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‘Our Secret’ by Susan Griffin

February 15, 2012 | 10 Comments

Susan Griffin’s long essay “Our Secret,” a chapter in her book A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War, is about the hidden shame and pain humans carry and their consequences. It is an astonishing essay, a meditation on the soul-destroying price of conforming to false selves that have been brutalized by others, mentally or physically or both, or by themselves in committing acts of violence and emotional cruelty.

As an essay, it shows the power of a writer’s voice—the scenes are few and spare in its forty-eight pages—but it’s mesmerizing. “Our Secret” has joined my pantheon of all-time great essays, along with Jonathan Lethem’s “The Beards,” Eudora Welty’s “The Little Store,” and James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son.” Despite its innovative braided structure, Griffin’s essay is much like Baldwin’s in being a rather classical reflective essay, though Baldwin’s essay’s spine employs a more traditional framed structure (opening and closing in essentially the same scene). Somehow Griffin achieves narrative drive with her segmented approach, perhaps because of her interesting juxtapositions, intense focus, and the quiet power of her language as her family’s own story unfolds alongside those of war criminals and victims.

“Our Secret” is a hybrid of memoir, history, and journalism, and is built with these discrete strands: the Holocaust; women affected by World War II directly or indirectly in their treatment by husbands and fathers; the harsh, repressive boyhood of Heinrich Himmler, who grew up to command Nazi rocketry and became the key architect of Jewish genocide; the testimony of a man scarred by war; and Griffin’s own desperately unhappy family life and harsh, repressed girlhood.

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Welty on what’s ‘greater than scene’

September 6, 2011 | 5 Comments

A version of this post first appeared on August 31, 2008. Eudora Welty’s essay “The Little Store” takes us with her, as a child, to a neighborhood grocery, what we’d call a convenience store today. It’s a story about the lost world of childhood and it captures turn-of-the-century Jackson, Mississippi. All she conveys is suffused with meaning for her, but Welty avoids sentimentality by showing  instead of telling readers what to feel. The store’s realm is one of children on …

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