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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Recalling an 'elegant essayist'


“I didn't mean to spend my life writing American history, which should have been taught in the schools, but I saw no alternative but to taking it on myself. I could think of a lot of cheerier things I'd rather be doing than analyzing George Washington and Aaron Burr. But it came to pass, that was my job, so I did it.” – Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal was born on this day in 1925 at West Point where his father was a military officer serving as the first instructor of aeronautics in the Military Academy’s history.   He would become one of the most well-known and sometimes controversial writers in American history, doing novels, essays, screenplays and stage plays and taking on a larger-than-life public role as an intellectual, debater (particularly against conservative writer and spokesman William F. Buckley) and historian. 

“I never wanted to be a writer,” he said when people tried to categorize him.  “I mean, for me, that was the last thing I wanted.”  That having been said, he wrote 28 nonfiction books, 32 novels, 8 plays, and 16 screenplays and teleplays.  Many of his books were best sellers, but especially the gripping historical novels Burr, Lincoln, 1876 and Empire.  The Los Angeles Times said that he was a literary juggernaut whose novels and essays were considered "among the most elegant in the English language.”

In 1993, Vidal won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for the anthology United States: Essays 1952–92.   "Whatever his subject,” the award citation read, “he addresses it with an artist's resonant appreciation, a scholar's conscience and the persuasive powers of a great essayist."

 
In his later years (he died in 2012) he lamented what he termed the lack of good American writers.   “For every Scott Fitzgerald concerned with the precise word and the selection of relevant incident, there are a hundred American writers, many well-regarded, who appear to believe that one word is just as good as another and that everything which occurs to them is worth putting down.”




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