Listening to the Page: Adventures in Reading and Writing

Listening to the Page: Adventures in Reading and Writing

Listening to the Page: Adventures in Reading and Writing

Listening to the Page: Adventures in Reading and Writing

Synopsis

When he sold his first short story to The New Yorker in 1979, Alan Cheuse was hardly new to the literary world. He had studied at Rutgers under John Ciardi, worked at the Breadloaf Writing Workshops with Robert Frost and Ralph Ellison, written hundreds of reviews for Kirkus Reviews, and taught alongside John Gardner and Bernard Malamud at Bennington College for nearly a decade. Soon after the New Yorker story appeared, Cheuse wrote a freelance magazine piece about a new, publicly funded broadcast network called National Public Radio, and a relationship of reviewer and radio was born. In Listening to the Page, Alan Cheuse takes a look back at some of the thousands of books he has read, reviewed, and loved, offering retrospective pieces on modern American literary figures such as Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Bernard Malamud, and John Steinbeck, as well as contemporary writers like Elizabeth Tallent and Vassily Aksyonov. Other essays explore landscape in All the Pretty Horses, the career of James Agee, Mario Vargas Llosa and naturalism, and the life and work of Robert Penn Warren.

Excerpt

In the autumn of 1982, I was living in Knoxville, Tennessee, carefully disguised to myself as a “young” writer. That was a nimble bit of illusion on my part. My fortieth birthday had come and gone. Bennington College, where I had taught literature for nearly a decade, had given me my walking papers, and since my wife at the time—mother of my two daughters—was offered a job teaching English at the University of Tennessee, we moved south.

It was a bit of a shock, though mostly in good ways. After New England, a growing season that began in March and didn't end until November seemed like the climate of Paradise. We bought a small new house in a subdivision just on the edge of the town's western limits, and I learned how to run a gas-powered lawn mower. I also settled into a half-finished basement room, with the desk, an old picnic table, facing a window that looked out under our rear deck to where some redbud trees stood along the line of a small watery ditch, and there I tried, not for the first time, to start writing fiction.

About the only things I knew for certain were that writing was more difficult than learning how to run a gas-powered lawn mower and that before you write you learn the language and you read. Just about everything else was a mystery. Though mystery wasn't bad.

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