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Best Friends Forever

Having recently (well, recently enough) read Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife and seen Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, I am well aware of, and fascinated by, the great literary friendships of the Lost Generation. I’m embarrassed to say, however, that I didn’t even think of all the other author pals who have existed throughout history. When Lauren sent me this article just yesterday that starts off with Hemingway/Fitzgerald and explores the impact of other great writers who were admirers of and friends to one another, I dove right in.

Many of them I had previously been aware of—Shelley and Byron, of course, Tolkien and Lewis, Wordsworth and Coleridge (I’ll always have a soft spot for the Romantics, and I’m sure everyone else here at DGLM is groaning a “you would” right now), and Emerson and Thoreau are an obvious pair…though I never noticed before how strongly each resembles Abraham Lincoln in distinct ways. The rest, however, were new to me, and both surprising and not. Writing is in so many ways such a solitary endeavor, yet we tend to flock towards those with similar values, sentiments and aspirations to our own. While there were clearly disagreements—some of the physical—it was also, what I can assume, a benefit to the craft of each of these well-known figures. Without the ability to defend one’s own ideas to a compatriot who is willing to cut one down to size, yet also completely understand the absolute anguish and exhilaration that accompany grand literary output, there is less chance, less motivation to grow, evolve and even change, should it benefit.

If you had the opportunity to befriend any author—past or present, well-known or little-read—who would it be? I don’t mean someone who merely interests you or whose work you particularly admire, but someone who you feel could really be both adversary and advisor, who would help you grow as a writer. This takes some thinking, but I’m curious!

8 Responses to Best Friends Forever

  1. Rachel, I hesitate to directly answer the question you pose … I think it’s even more impossible (with apologies for the nonsensical construction) to pick a single author as a writer’s hypothetical friend than it is for an active reader to pick a single favorite author.

    I would say that as a writer I am in constant ‘dialog’ with authors whose work and sensibilities I admire … and some with whom I differ strongly: what do I learn from them, what do I adopt, where to I go further, where does their work challenge me to exceed my natural limitations?

    I could reel off a list of writers who play this role for me, but instead I’ll name one living poet who would certainly make the list and who had a literary friendship that is not included in the eleven described in the post to which Rachel linked: Gary Snyder.

    As it happens, I picked up a copy of _The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder_ earlier this month. The letters span nearly four decades of the poets’ literary and intellectual and companionable engagement, from 1956 to 1995 (Ginsberg died in 1997) … great stuff that I’ll savor for a long while.

    One wonders what artifacts of contemporary BFF relationships between writers will be preserved a half-century from now. E-mail exchanges? Tweets? Blog posts? Or will most of the ‘evidence’ be lost down a digital drain?

  2. It probably changes with whatever I’m admiring most at the time, but right now it’d probably be T.S. Eliot. His imagery is blowing me away at the moment, and though I’m not a poet, I wouldn’t mind picking his brain and learning to write that beautifully. I also think we’d have interesting theological discussions, given the course of his life.

  3. Tamara says:

    Oh there’s this great book! (Isn’t there always? :-) ) A Chance Meeting by Rachel Cohen, which is about “The Intertwined Lives of Writers and Artists, 1854-1967.” I think it might be out of print. But I loved reading about how different people interacted and also Cohen’s writing. http://www.amazon.com/Chance-Meeting-Rachel-Cohen/dp/0099466570/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331922184&sr=1-3#_

  4. Kim says:

    If I were to choose someone who was totally approachable and friendly (and funny) it would have to be Denise Chavez. She once told me that she didn’t understand why authors had to be snooty and wouldn’t even say hello to you in line at the Burger King.

    But if I were to pick my dream mentor, it would probably be Neil Gaiman, not only because I love his work, but I could then say I knew a character in the Simpsons.

  5. Andrea says:

    Difficult… I admire several writers for different reasons. My favorite authors are those who have something to say, a story to tell which says something important about life or the world itself.

    Maybe Philip Pullman. I like the way he tells a good story but shows strong opinions at the same time. I don´t always agree with him, but I think it would be fascinating to discuss my own stories and ideas with him.

    Alison Croggon. Another author with strong opinions, and I admire the way she brings her characters to life. She also knows a lot more about poetry and theatre than I do, so I could learn a lot from her. I´d love my style to be a bit more poetic.

  6. S. L. Duncan says:

    I’m with you, Rachel. That Lost Generation is my mythology. Maybe even my religion. I think anyone who reads A MOVEABLE FEAST would have to choose Hemingway to pal around with.

    You get the impression that he may be absolutely full of it, but that he would also be good for a laugh. Give him enough to drink and you could properly wind the man up and into a frenzy. That may be cruel, but then, so was he to some degree. The friendship would be fiercely loyal but never sensitive. He’d push your best out of you; demand it as his friend.

    To this day, spending a night and working a shift at Shakespeare and Co., in the Latin Quarter of Paris is on the top of my bucket list. Yes, I know it’s not the original location (at least I think it’s not), but still…

  7. Several years ago, I read Necessary Madness, written by 17-year-old Jenn Crowell. I was blown away by the book and the author. A few years ago, I connected with her on Facebook and we became fast friends. In her 30s now, Jenn just completed the sequel to NM and I was privileged to read and advise as she completed her chapters. Last week, she submitted it to her editor and I can’t wait to see it in print. While we’ve never met, we’ve talked on the phone and hope to meet at a writers’ conference someday.

    Every once in awhile, I sit back and think, “I can’t believe I’m actually friends with this brilliant author!”

  8. I like when you discuss this kind of stuff inside your blog. Possibly could you continue to do this particular?

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