In the fall of 1993, Alice Winkler of National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" asked Reynolds Price to write a short story for a Christmas morning broadcast. This assignment would result in NPR's inviting Price to join its varied group of commentators on "All Things Considered." The laws of radio require a concision that has become a welcome new discipline for Price; and here are all the personal essays which he has broadcast since July 25, 1995.
Whether recounting events from his past, examining the details of his current experience as a writer, teacher, traveler, and general witness of the world, Price demonstrates in his direct prose that a writer can instantly connect with his audience. He discusses a few predictable topics -- family, the poisonous mysteries of racial intolerance, and faith -- but he also deals with new matters: capital punishment, Gone With the Wind, his adventures while navigating an immensely inaccessible America in a wheelchair; and he provides a memorable piece on childlessness. Throughout, Price never loses sight of the origin of either the word or the spirit of the essay -- the French word connotes a try, an attempt -- and each piece here is a well-formed, revealing, often amusing and refreshing foray into a moment unlike any we've encountered in other forms from him. We're unlikely to read more thought-provoking work from a commentator for a great time to come.
In 1995, NPR's All Things Considered commissioned acclaimed Southern novelist Price (Kate Vaiden; Roxanna Slade; etc.) to contribute occasional editorial commentaries on any subject he chose. The results, along with an earlier Christmas story written for NPR's Morning Edition, are collected here, voicing Price's thoughts on topics ranging from the movies to the writing life to family relations. Recurring themes that he explores with particularly compelling insight include the cultural and emotional blessings of a small-town Southern boyhood, the difficultiesDand surprising advantagesDof being physically disabled (Price has been confined to a wheelchair for about 15 years after a bout with spinal cancer), and the richness of his experiences as both a student and a teacher. Price displays an impressive talent for using few words to convey a great deal, as he does in "The Last Great Weeper," where, musing on his tendency to cry at unexpected moments, he concludes that he is moved to tears by seeing "our kind at the highest pitch of skill and luck... those moments where somebody gets something right. Exactly right, the rarest event." Although ranging in tone from elegiac to angry, these pieces mostly evince a thoughtful optimism, chronicling and celebrating the small but significant pleasures of everyday life. While undoubtedly appealing to fans of Price's NPR broadcasts, this collection will also be of value to admirers of his fiction, as it offers a panoramic glimpse of the writer's mind at work. Price's readers and NPR listenersDeven if they heard these commentaries on the airDwill find it a delight. The brevity and broad range of these pieces also makes this an ideal introduction to this important novelist for readers who do not know his work. Author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 29, 2001
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Excerpt from Feasting the Heart by Reynolds Price
I was twenty-two years old and still hadn't spent a Christmas away from home and family. That day though I was half laid back in unmarred sun on a bench in the one true Colosseum -- Italy, Rome, December 25th 1955. Europe had only begun to believe that the devastation of Hitler's war might be survived, and even in Rome the sight of a winter tourist was rare as a failure of courtesy.
I'd left my room and made my way down through the city past ruins posing in vain for their picture -- today they were empty of all but cats and ghosts of assorted psychotic Caesars, woolly Vandals and Visigoths. I'd even walked the length of the Forum and on across to the Colosseum with no sure glimpse of anybody as lost and foreign to the place as I and not a sign of holly and gifts.
I'd passed a few couples, sporting that brand of Italian child who easily seems the world's most loved; and some of the parents had bowed at my greeting. But the Colosseum was likewise empty of all but me and one of the bent old ladies who then sold tickets to everything Roman, toilets included.
So there, lone as Robinson Crusoe, I had one question -- was I lonely in this grand place on such a high love-feast? It seemed the right question for a journeyman writer. I shut my eyes to the broad arena that drank the blood of so many thousands and let the Mediterranean sun burn its health deep into my bones.
The answer was No. I was happy. I'd got the gene from both my parents; and despite a normally bleak adolescence, had been sheepishly happy most of my days -- sheepish because I wondered still if smiles were the kit for an artist's life. Even if I was here today on one of the world's great magnets alone, I knew I was backed with a travel grant; my first short stories were down on paper; more ideas were ticking in me; and -- best -- in only three more weeks I'd join my first requited love who was skiing in Austria.