Another day on the trail


I spent all day in the archive and heard, yes heard, the Ploughshares interview on tape. I have heard Yates read snippets of his work before but this was wholly different. The man himself, drawing deeply on a cigarette, before laconically answering a question in his deep, throaty, almost actorly drawl with poor consonants and another drag and a glass clunking down on the table by him and then obviously retrieved again. It was amazing to hear it. On a next door table a studious very thin gentleman with bifocals was pouring over Alastair Cook’s papers. Now he looked like an academic. I felt rather shambolic by comparison – hair up, hair down, glasses on, glasses off, paper everywhere, ear phones, boxes, white gloves on and off – he barely moved. So I worked from 9.30 through to 4, rushed back here for a shower and then off again.


I had no idea what to expect at Emerson but DeWitt was so welcoming and actually so were the students. DH started by introducing me and making me feel very welcome; he then showered me with gifts – a copy of his book (which was both kind and needed since I’d dropped the Amazon copy I had bought under my plane seat), a copy of the latest edition of Ploughshares edited by James McPherson, an article by McPherson on race and identity, a photo of ‘Dick’ to look at (which he subsequently photocopied for me) and finally a copy of the Lie Down in Darkness Screenplay. The students were very responsive and encouraging. We then talked about zhiv – he later read out extracts from zhiv’s latest piece on Saying Goodbye to Sally and some discussion of how zhiv and I had ‘met’ through Yates. There was a long discussion of ‘Builders’ which was really interesting and during which DH kept returning to the marriage we were reading about – easy to gloss over that; eventually we moved on to SGtS, which is where zhiv ‘came into the room again’, and then various other stories including one by Salinger (which I didn’t know) one by Malamud, one by Cheever (which I did know) and a couple of others.


DH’s teaching style made me want to ask him whether Richard Yates was similar – very calm, arms crossed, taking it all at a measured pace, time to think and ponder and cross-reference – or was Yates more like me – pacing about, in a bit of a rush (well, I only have an hour with 2nd yr undergrads as opposed to his long luxurious class with postgrads.), throwing out questions and trying not to get diverted.


After the three and a half-hour class with his MA students, DeWitt and I went to he Crossroads but there was nowhere to park so he drove me to Harvard to show me the pub where Ploughshares started; it was heaving and very noisy so we found a beer in some dive and then went out into the drizzle so that we could speak. I asked him about why he wasn’t better read in his lifetime (Dick, I mean, my mate Dick). We covered quite a lot of ground, with some good tales about RY and his mad bad behaviour, but, understandably, DH was very tired and it was time to go.


The most exciting thing happened just as we were leaving. He was saying that RY regarded himself as an experimentalist and that no one else did and that people didn’t really understand what he meant by that. I could hardly contain my glee. ‘But I do,’ I said like an excited third former. ‘What do you mean?’ and so I gave him a brief run through of my ideas about Yates pulling and pushing the realist form to incorporate narrative driven by dialogic exchange, endings which challenge rather than confirm and demand that the reader works and gets involved with the ‘telling’, political and social comment that is there but often barely noticeable – the issues of slavery, feminism, civil rights. Yes, a realist at heart but it diminishes him to rest with that term.


When I got back to my ‘home’ in Brookline I picked up an email from Monica Yates/Shapiro who is going to be hosting a special screening of the film next Friday. She suggests we meet on Saturday. I am supposed to be in Westchester then with my cousin. Desperate to be brave enough to ask to see the film but really not sure if I am. Not sure what to do about that.


{Nice review of DeWitt’s book Safe Suicide:}


3 Responses to “Another day on the trail”

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