Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ward Six List of Ten Over 80

Ward Six is proud to announce its TEN OVER 80: WRITERS TO GO BACK AND READ list. All the following writers will turn 80 or more this year, and all have been kicking ass for longer than we have been alive:

JOHN BARTH: I read The End of the Road the summer I was 18. It made me understand how fully bizarre being an adult was going to be. Hurray! In the late 60's he wrote an article called "The Literature of Exhaustion," which kind of predicted the end of the novel. But then he found himself continuing to write novels. His latest book of fiction, The Development, a collection of linked stories, came out in 2008.

BEVERLY CLEARY: She is 94 and still writing! I can't decide if I like the Ralph the Mouse books or the Ramona ones better.

EVAN S. CONNELL: This guy is tragically under-read. Mrs. Bridge was republished earlier this year; it and Mr. Bridge are sad and funny character sketches. Also wonderful is The Connoisseur and his several collections of essays, including The White Lantern and A Long Desire.

J. P. DONLEAVY: Also under-read! And another author I read when I was a teenager. Donleavy is a little like an Irish-American Richard Brautigan, only better. Or maybe a bit like Barthelme. I keep his story collection Meet My Maker the Mad Molecule on my desk, and am still constantly surprised by what I find when I open it. Here's the first paragraph of "The Mad Molecule":
I woke on that terrible day and mixed the shredded apple in my raw porridge oats and poured on the cream. I know what's good for me. I put on the shoes with the golfer's soles, walked silently down the stairs and out into a great blue sky and along the river's warm sweet smell.
I wish more writers these days dared to be so weird.

PAULA FOX: I read Desperate Characters in the mid-nineties because Jonathan Franzen wrote about finding it at Yaddo and how it's a perfect short novel. It is. She's had an interesting life and has written two memoirs. Also, the daughter she gave up for adoption gave birth to Courtney Love.

WILLIAM GASS: In the Heart of the Heart of the Country is a collection of five strange and linguistically brilliant short stories. Here's a bit from "Icicles":
Glick was holding a pen in his teeth like a pirate. It was a green pen and it made Fender think: pickle. Glick nodded briefly at Fender who was feeling his way now through an office unnaturally dark and full of lurking obstacles. Goodness but it's bright outside, he said, his voice false as a wig, which both surprised and annoyed him, since it was a small thing to have said, and he'd certainly meant it. The typewriter was repeating a letter -- likely x.
In the Heart of the Heart of the Country is the only thing I've read of his, but now I think I need to read the rest of his smallish oeuvre.

HARPER LEE: Well, you probably don't need to go back and read her, because she has to be the most thoroughly read writer in America. But I wanted to mention her, because she's still alive, and, unless she's been secretly storing away manuscripts, she's the Patron Saint of Blocked Writers. She wrote our motto: "It's better to be silent than to be a fool." God bless her.

ELMORE LEONARD: Did you know he's going to be 85 this year? I didn't. But I'm not going to say anything about him; JRL wrote about him here.

DORIS LESSING: I admit that The Golden Notebook was a bit much for me, but I loved The Summer Before the Dark, which is about a housewife who leaves her family and falls in with a group of strange younger people. Also, I liked The Fifth Child, which is about a family who gives birth to a kind of throw-back Neander-child. When I first read it, it was horrifying; having had a couple of boys myself since then, the kid in the book doesn't seem so bad. I love it that when was told she won the Nobel Prize, she apparently said, "Oh, Christ... I couldn't care less."

ALISON LURIE: Alison is my personal idol. Her books are all funny, sharp-eyed, and slightly wicked. She's hugely productive and writes every day. I want to be her.

Some of my favorites of hers are: The War Between the Tates, The Nowhere City, Real People, Truth and Consequences, and Familiar Spirits, her memoir about her friendship with David Jackson and James Merrill and their experimentation with the Ouija board.

48 comments:

Pete said...

Thanks for the interesting twist on the New Yorker's ridiculously over-linked-to list. I was just about to propose a "1 Over 40 But Under 45" list (sole member: me) but yours is much more fitting. Here's hoping you're still updating the list 36 years from now.

Clifford Garstang said...

Terrific list. Thanks!

Here's another who fits: Elizabeth Spencer

Edward Champion said...

No Cynthia Ozick! You sellouts!

rmellis said...

Thanks for mentioning Elizabeth Spencer -- I don't know her work but I'll track it down.

Pete: I'm sorry you missed my cutoff! You're in good company, though, including Philip Roth and my own husband.

rmellis said...

Ed -- I know!! She was number 11, and I just couldn't remember her work well enough to say anything appropriate. *hangs head in shame*

rmellis said...

Also left off because I'm not familiar enough with their work:

Hilma Wolitzer, Peter Matthiessen, Frederik Pohl, Sidney Sheldon, David Wagoner, Elie Wiesel (shame!), Milan Kundera, Imre Kertesz, Mary Higgins Clark, Carol Emshwiller, Bruce J. Friedman, Edna O'Brien, James Salter, Gore Vidal.

daniela said...

uh, no jose saramago? what gives?

rmellis said...

oops!

Richard Davis said...

No need to consider Sheldon. He is not getting any older if you know what I mean.

Anonymous said...

Bertrice Small - Queen of the Erotic Romance movement. Her Skye O'Malley series is incredible - a huge influence on my writings!

Adalena said...

You've been Awled:

http://www.theawl.com/2010/06/magazine-announces-long-awaited-10-over-80-writers-list

MoNYC said...

What, no Gabriel Garcia Marquez love?

Michael said...

Anything by 87-year-old José Saramago is worth reading. I blogged about him just yesterday.

http://j.mp/9lAEJ0

the Ape said...

James Salter for the win.

Greg Gerke said...

Ditto on Salter.

Big Other is constructing a competing list and asking people to vote: http://bigother.com/2010/06/03/tell-us-your-list/

Also John Madera's 40 over 40:http://bigother.com/2010/06/03/over-forty-writers-over-forty-to-watch/

Luis Ortiz said...

I would add Carol Emshwiller to this list. She is 88 and still working in top form, writing slipstream and fantastic fiction.

Kelly Cherry said...

An enthusiastic "yes!" to many of the writers mentioned here. Elizabeth Spencer is one of our truly great short story writers, though also, of course, an outstanding novelist. Mary Ward Brown might have been mentioned, and Doris Betts. Shirley Ann Grau, absolutely. It's really nice to see a little attention paid to writers who stayed the course and keep going.

rmellis said...

I forgot Ursula LeGuin because I temporarily confused her with Madeleine L'Engle and thought she was dead. Sorry, Ursula!

Yeah and I totally spaced on Saramago.

Zoe said...

What about one of Gabriel José García Márquez's books. Take your pick. For example, A Hundred Years of Solitude, or Love in the Time of Cholera

jrlennon said...

I feel the need to add that, although this post was most certainly a reaction to the New Yorker's list, we don't particularly begrudge those writers the honor (although I must confess a pang of envy as I slip out of eligibility for it, and closer to eligibility for Rhian's list). Indeed, I am particularly stoked for Tea Obreht, my friend and former student--who, I might add, was also a student of one of Rhian's Silver Scribblers, Alison Lurie.

Sarah Cypher said...

Ursula Le Guin is quite alive. I just saw her the other day. (She spoke beautifully about her experience of the Mt. St. Helens eruption at a 30th-anniversary lecture.)

rmellis said...

Rock on, young people! I think the NYer list is a pretty good one, though of course I have a few personal faves that I'd have put on it.

Mostly I'm happy not to see any ex-boyfriends on there.

Kevin said...

Ha! didn't know this page existed, just followed a link from somewhere in the ether. While here, let me nominate Lore Segal, who I just had the great pleasure of a couples of lunches with in Spokane. She published six stories in the New Yorker in 1964 alone! Lovely writer, lovely talker, lovely person.

jrlennon said...

Whoa--I wonder if 6 New Yorker stories in a year is some kind of record. Welcome to the blog!

ed skoog said...

Great list, Rhian!

If it were for poets here are some eligibles, still alive and writing:

Dorothea Tanning (100!)
W.S. Merwin
Richard Wilbur
John Ashbery
Gary Snyder
Richard Howard
X.J. Kennedy (the excellent)
Galway Kinnell
Maxine Kumin
Philip Levine
Marie Ponsot
Adrienne Rich
Edward Kamau Brathwaite
John Hollander
Szymborska
Yevtushenko
Derek Walcott
Adonis
Louis Simpson
Claribel Alegria
Madeline DeFrees
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
William Jay Smith
Ruth Stone
Robert Bly
John Haines
Donald Hall
David Wagoner

jrlennon said...

I just bought the new Ashberry. He is better than ever.

bigscarygiraffe said...

*prints post & comments, cries in exuberant anticipation, runs to nearest forest & commences summer reading*

Shauna said...

AWESOME!

bookfraud said...

damn! i was gonna do the same thing on my blog! but not as well as you did, must admit.

i didn't know donleavy was still kickin'. nobody writes better about the 'uld sod.

didn't betty white write a book or something?

zchry_cole said...

Oh wow, I remember reading "The Fifth Child" when I was eleven. At the time, it read like a harrowing horror novel, but I've never gone back to it. Would anyone else categorize the book that way?

Jane Ciabattari said...

Diana Athill, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography this year...

Jane Ciabattari said...

Shirley Hazzard....The Transit of Venus!

AaronSRosenberg said...

I'd like to nominate Jane Gardam!

Anonymous said...

William Gass interview: http://www.viceland.com/int/v16n12/htdocs/william-h-gass-279.php

Connell story: http://www.viceland.com/int/v14n12/htdocs/assassin.php

Elmore Leonard interview:
http://www.viceland.com/int/v16n6/htdocs/elmore-leonard-is-the-man-894.php

Ursula LeGuin interview:
http://www.viceland.com/int/v15n12/htdocs/ursula-k-le-guin-440.php

Dan said...

Herman Wouk is 95 years old. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1952 for "The Caine Mutiny," and wrote numerous other novels, including "The Winds of War and War and Remembrance."

He's got a new book coming out, called "The Language God Talks."

Yoyogod said...

What, no mention of Ray Bradbury?

Pale Ramón said...

And let's not forget Mavis Gallant.

Susan R. said...

Nadine Gordimer!

rmellis said...

Great additions, thanks!

Tom Bentley said...

"I wish more writers these days dared to be so weird."

Indeed. That's a tasty list; thank you. It's a nice shot of bourbon to see that some grey in the hair hasn't hardened the pen.

sdavis said...

Can I add a really long post? Sorry, guys. This is from The Huffington Post from a piece by Sherman Yellen about my father, a novelist who published with the biggies all along but hasn't been able to since 1990. He's 81.
"[The novel is] called "Blue Sky" and it is a brilliant tale of a prison break in the nineteen-seventies by some men on death row. I have never read a book which so deeply and truthfully enters into the hearts and minds of murderers, showing both their innate depravity and their innate humanity. It is a masterpiece about prison life, and criminal acts that tells a whopping good story, right up there, if not beyond Capote's "In Cold Blood." The St. Louis Globe noted "Davis's brilliance is to keep the writing precise and sharp, and to terrify with irony and exactness." The irony for me is that Davis, a prize winning author, was forced to self publish his masterpiece. I'm sure it can be purchased on Amazon, or through www.iuniverse.com. This failure of a commercial publisher to publish a great book speaks to the ageism of publishing today (Davis is 80) and the sad condition of an industry flailing about for best sellers from the notorious. Bernie Madoff's mistress gets a publisher, the smallest droppings from the life of Michael Jackson get volumes, but a splendid writer is rejected. Because it is self-published it will not be reviewed in The New York Times. And that's a scandal in itself."

sdn said...

Glad to see that a few people have mentioned Carol Emshwiller. (She's reading tonight at McNally Jackson!)

And it's great to see Paula Fox -- do not forget her brilliant children's/YA work. (She won the Newbery Medal for THE SLAVE DANCER.)

rmellis said...

Wow, Sarah! That's amazing. And yeah, a tragedy.

Anonymous said...

Paul West!

Elizabeth said...

Doris Lessing's The Good Anarchist is a wonderful book.

Levonne said...

And Doris Lessing's The Grass is Singing was great. How about a list of those in that missing gap between 40 and 70? I guess that would be the largest list of all. Never mind. 65 - 79 would be a great list.

Kaze said...

I agree with the Ape. It's James Salter. This post contains a link to a great short story of his, "Last Night."

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Impressive list! Looks like there were several of us who countered with our own lists of "over 40" authors. If you aren't tired of reading about great authors who've lived more than four decades, please check out http://pagelambert.blogspot.com/2010/06/writers-over-40-rock.html.