In his third volume of memoir, Reynolds Price explores six crucial years of his life -- his departure from home in 1955 to spend three years as a student at Oxford University; then his return to North Carolina to begin his long career as a university teacher. He gives often moving, and frequently comic, portraits of his great teachers in England -- such men as Lord David Cecil, Nevill Coghill, and W. H. Auden, who was the most distinguished English-language poet of those years. In London the poet and editor Stephen Spender becomes his first publisher and a generous friend who introduces him to rewarding figures like the essayist Cyril Connolly and George Orwells encouraging widow, Sonia. He spends rich months traveling in Britain and on the Continent; and above all he undergoes the first loves of his life -- one with an Oxford colleague whom he describes as a romantic friend and another with an older man. Back in the States, in his first class at Duke he meets a startlingly gifted student in the sixteen-year-old Anne Tyler; and he soon combines the difficult pleasures of teaching English composition and literature with his own hard delight in learning to write a first novel. At the end of three lonely years, he completes the novel -- A Long and Happy Life -- and returns to England for a fourth year before his novel appears in Britain and America and meets with a success that sets the pace for an ongoing life of fiction, poetry, plays, essays, and translations (Ardent Spirits is his thirty-eighth volume). The droll memories recorded here amount to the unsurpassed -- and, again, often comical -- story of a writers beginnings; and the young man who emerges has proven his right to stand by his fellows of whatever sex and goal. Ardent Spirits is a book that penetrates deeply into the life of a writer, a teacher, and a steadfast lover.
In this new memoir, award-winning novelist Price (Kate Vaiden) takes up where his 1989 Clear Pictures left off-with a young Price heading for England on a Rhodes scholarship, a young man lighting into new and unfamiliar territories and the lessons he learns about literature, life and love. Covering the years 1955 to 1961, Price chronicles the challenges of living in a strange place, his emotional insecurities and his anxieties about his ability to complete the thesis on Milton, his adventures in Europe with a close friend and his eventual return to his alma mater, Duke University, to teach writing and literature. Along the way, Price recalls his friendships with Stephen Spender, Cyril Connolly, W.H. Auden and his brief encounters with Jean-Paul Sartre and J.R.R. Tolkien. Price's memoir also displays the tenacious desire with which, after warm encouragement from Eudora Welty and William Styron, he embarks on a round of writing that produces his first novel, A Long and Happy Life, published to acclaim in 1962. Although the detail can be tiresomely meticulous, Price, as usual, powerfully articulates the strength of memory in shaping our lives and gracefully draws us into a literary life lived fully. Photos. (May)
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May 10, 2009
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