Wright Morris

As promised in my “Writer’s Writers” post yesterday I’d like to talk about the writers on the list who toiled in anonymity. Wright Morris (1910-1998) was born in Nebraska, and the Plains were his main theme. I first heard of him way back in my drinking days when I was a callow aspiring poet who hadn’t written very much of anything. A guy I met in a bar, Bob Groves, was the person who first uttered his name; he was a reporter for the now defunct “Courier Express,” Buffalo’s venerated morning newspaper. Depending on what time you caught him, Bob could be very interesting, when he was in his cups you wanted to stay away. A failed writer he said he had no talent, which he blamed for his drinking; we often talked about writers, and one night he mentioned Wright Morris, whom I’d never heard of. I respected his literary opinion and set out to find one of his books, which sadly were mostly out of print. Buffalo has a very good Central Library and since I like to start at the beginning, I began with his first book, “My Uncle Dudley.” I liked it right away, it being a road book featuring a young boy and his somewhat shady uncle and his nefarious ways. I went on to read most all of his works (over 30), with my favorites being “My Uncle Dudley,” “Plains Song,” and “Ceremony in Lone Tree.” He was also a great photographer, wrote a multi-volume memoir, and experimented with the narrative form in many different ways. His writing is timeless in the way he shows how things once were and will never be again: frozen water on the water barrel, home burials, weddings, and funerals, hard unremunerative farm work, arranged marriages, harsh winters and unrelenting summers. His prose is quietly immaculate, concise, a pleasure to read, but while he won many awards he was unread. I know of no one except myself (and possibly Bob Groves) who has read him, although I have recommended him time and again. If this piece in some small way rectifies that, I would be very happy.

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