It is a history that says much about these two writers, their saddening relationship to each other, and the ways they transmuted their lives into fiction. It also shows how even the best critics may be led to confuse literature with biography, fiction with fact, art with life, for the sake of a good story, especially when the story corroborates the received view of the writers who figure in it.
—from a NY Times letter to the editor, published in 1988
English majors, poets, writers, journalists, etc., typically have, by default, the behind the scenes scoop on all the literary giants. Coleridge’s addiction to opium, for instance, or Dickinson’s isolation from the outside world, caused by an all-too-familiar unrequited love. Hemingway’s love affair with whiskey, and his counterpart Gertrude Stein’s love affair with women. The Lit. geek gossip goes on.
For years, I had considered myself “in the know” concerning the biographical soundbites and famous quotes from my literary heroes and heroines. I knew every famous quote from British sea to shining New England shore.
Now, I am in dire need of some Faulkner, Welty, Capote, and all the Southern-born writers who grew up dirt poor and brilliant beyond their means. Many of whom—like me—ran as fast and hard as they could out of the South and as far above the Mason-Dixon line as God and their smoke-filled lungs could carry them.
Now I see coins, stacks of green, imaginary numbers, salaries, benefits, barters, slips of paper with my scribbled signature, and trust, that the rich are different…
That I am a running gun, with notches on my sestina, and a corroboration of biography, fiction, and fact.