Writing About Writers

Price Is Right

Literary memoirs may not be lighting up Kindles, but don't ignore the latest from Reynolds Price.

Book Cover Considering the marginal contribution literary fiction makes to the commercial publishing engine’s so-called bottom line, I am ever astounded so many literary biographies, writers’ memoirs, and authors’ correspondences are published. In the fullness of time I expect to talk about some recent literary marginalia, but in the meantime I have been thinking about North Carolingian man of letters and Duke University mentor Reynolds Price and Ardent Spirits Leaving Home, Coming Back (Scribner), the third installment of his memoirs. This volume deals with his three-year Rhodes Scholarship studies at Oxford University from 1955 to his early career at Duke, where he spent the entirety of his professorial life.

Price, who has published nearly 40 volumes of a variety of serious writing—novels, short stories, plays, essays, and memoirs—is at the bottom of it all a masterful storyteller and a subtle and elegant wordsmith (and it should not go unsaid, a courtly and gracious person). If you are not acquainted with him, Price received a National Book Critics Circle award for his 1986 novel Kate Vaiden, and that might be a good place to start. Now I favor his novels Tongues of Angels (1990), Blue Calhoun (1992), and the story collection The Foreseeable Future (1991)—but no matter, as there is plenty of Price’s writing to go around.

In my recent, brief correspondence with Reynolds, he observed about Ardent Spirits: “It was hard work but I loved it. I’m 76 now and looking that far back proved far easier than I’d imagined it would—sad in some ways, exciting in others.”
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