blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



Thank you. I'm happy to be here in Richmond. I was here before, I have been here a couple of times. My first book was published in 1977 and reviewed in the New York Times. I was in Utah; I am from Utah. I'm not going to tell you this whole story except for two parts. One is that my editor called from New York and she said, "Your book has been reviewed today in the New York Times, and there's good news and bad news. What do you want to hear?"

It's always been my custom to be standing at a phone booth in rural Utah, most often in the town of Dutch John, where there is a phone on a telephone pole opposite the old middle school, which is now abandoned, stand there and listen to my editor, Carol Smith, read me the review of my book. And I said, "Give me the good news. What is it?" and she read the review. It was on a Thursday, and she read a review of my first book, Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, that was just angelic. The editor of The Nation had written this review and just was perfect, I thought, he got it all. She said, "And your picture's in the paper." And I said, "How do I look?" She said, "You look good." I said, "What's the bad news?" And she said, "There's no paper today." There was a blackout in New York. It was the 14th of July. There was one blackout day, so I'm . . . The whole review is in a collector's edition of the Times. And just to tell you a little hint, I was in Utah. I was going fishing. I was safe. You know, when I told my friends in New York that they all fell on the floor with their hands on their hearts.

But we had a book party in Washington, D. C., a friend of mine was an impresario there and had been involved in politics at a low level and hosted parties, and I met some famous people at his house. And we had this great party in the evening in the shadow of the cathedral and there were several senators there. My picture was in the paper the next day, in July of 1977, with the ambassador to Pakistan, the only time I've ever signed a book, "To His Excellency." So I was feeling like a fat cat and a big shot, a young guy wrote a book, and we came down to Richmond. One of my friends was at school here, and we were over on the avenue with the statues, and—so beautiful and so strange for me, exotic—and I went out for a walk and I ended up in a thrift store. There was a copy of my book for 99 cents. It was great. So fame finds its way to fleet, and live it up while you can.

I'm going to read just two things, one is a letter and one is a story. I've been writing—honest to Pete, talk about a jaded reader; I'm a jaded writer—I think I've written maybe fifty or sixty letters of recommendation this year. Students come to me who I've had and they say, "Would you write a letter of recommendation? I'm going to try to do the following," and it's go to a conference, or get into graduate school, or whatever it is. And they leave, and they leave me an envelope, and they never know what I put in these letters. Isn't it odd that they . . . So I thought it would be fair if I wrote . . . you know I think that we should sample it so students would know what their going to get. So this is the letter that I wrote for Gordon Lee Bunsen.

["Recommendation for Gordon Lee Bunsen," by Ron Carlson.]

So I wrote three of those, and one of those is for a student who apparently has passed away a couple of semesters ago. And another is for a narcoleptic, as well as the other letters, and I send these letters out.

Now this story, I'm just going to read this story, then. It's called "Introduction to Speech."

["Introduction to Speech," by Ron Carlson, published December 2004 by Harper's Magazine.]

Thank you.