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Authors: William Styron

My Generation

BOOK: My Generation
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This is a work of nonfiction. Some names and identifying details have been changed.

Copyright © 2015 by Rose Styron

Foreword copyright © 2015 by Tom Brokaw

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

and the H
colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the University of South Carolina Press for permission to reprint four lines from “In the Tree House at Night” by James Dickey (from
The Complete Poems of James Dickey
, copyright © 2013 The University of South Carolina)

Photograph on
this page
© Mariana Cook 1982

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Styron, William, 1925–2006, author.

[Essays. Selections]

My generation : collected nonfiction / William Styron; edited by James L. W. West III.

pages cm

Includes index.

ISBN 978-0-8129-9705-7

eBook ISBN 978-0-8129-9706-4

I. West, James L. W., editor. II. Title.

PS3569.T9A6 2015



eBook ISBN 9780812997064

eBook design adapted from printed book design by Jo Anne Metsch

Cover design: Anna Bauer

Cover photograph: © Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos




A few years ago I made a pilgrimage to Rowan Oak, the stately but deserted home of William Faulkner in Oxford, Mississippi, and wandered through the great man's library.

Even in midday light it was a dim, dusty room with no furniture, but the shelves were lined with books. By chance, one caught my eye:
Lie Down in Darkness
, the first novel by my friend Bill Styron of the Virginia Tidewater.

In his inscription which as I recall Bill addressed to “Mr. Faulkner,” Styron introduced himself a young Southern writer and explained that this was his first novel.

It was thrilling just to hold the book and imagine the day Faulkner received it, smoking his pipe, turning it over, reading the inscription, perhaps carrying it into the room where I now stood.

That and more came back to me as I read Bill's account for
magazine of Faulkner's death and funeral. It was Styron as reporter, gracefully moving through the “hot, sweaty languor bordering on desperation.”

“People in Mississippi have learned to move gradually, almost timidly, in this climate,” he wrote. “Black and white, they walk with both caution and deliberation.”

And in this collection of nonfiction about his generation and time, Styron is deliberate but neither cautious nor timid.

He writes about his generation, the South, and race with a voice that is at once lyrical and unsparing. Bill, the grandson of a slave owner, describes himself as practically a brother to James Baldwin, the tiny, fiery African American who wrote with uncompromising passion about the long overdue need for racial equality.

As you might expect, there are several references to
The Confessions of Nat Turner
, Styron's initially successful novel based on the true story of a rebellious slave in the nineteenth century who led a revolt against slave owners.

It was scheduled to become, as they say, a major motion picture, but by then the black consciousness movement was in full voice and Styron was condemned as a “whitey,” incapable of writing about a black hero.

Race is a continuing theme for this son of the South, as it has been for many white Southern writers, and Styron takes it north, into his adopted state of Connecticut, to the murder trial of a mentally challenged black man with a lifetime of poverty. His guilt was indisputable, but a death sentence—was that justice? Would it have been for a white defendant with the same limits?

Reading this evocative collection reminded me of the excitement I felt as a young man in the fifties, knowing that James Jones would be out with a new novel, or Truman Capote, James Dickey, Terry Southern, Nelson Algren, Philip Roth. They're all here, Styron's boon companions, and by extension ours as well.

It was a golden time in American literature, as this new generation took hold of social issues and made them the stuff of great books. They also were masters of the nonfiction form, as Styron is here.

Mailer's provocative essays on Vietnam. Capote on murder in Kansas. Roth on social issues. John Updike's peerless farewell to Ted Williams at Fenway. They made way for Joyce Carol Oates and Joan Didion, who moved gracefully between fiction and nonfiction.

In another nonfiction book, Bill wrote about his bout with depression, a haunting and yet instructive guide for others who were dealing with similar issues. Two of his closest friends were also struggling with depression. Art Buchwald and Mike Wallace often walked the beaches of Martha's Vineyard with Bill as a kind of three-man support group.

Art later complained, in his Buchwaldian way, “We all had depression, but Bill was the only one who made money out of it.”

Styron was meant for the literary life and the people who occupy it. Here he pays tribute to their work and personalities. He also shares his affection for his life-mate, the indomitable Rose, and their four spirited children. Styron would be incomplete without them.

Thank you, Bill, for sharing.




The Prevalence of Wonders



William Blackburn

Almost a Rhodes Scholar

A Case of the Great Pox

The South

The Oldest America

The James

Children of a Brief Sunshine

Race and Slavery

This Quiet Dust

A Southern Conscience

Slave and Citizen


Slavery's Pain, Disney's Gain

Our Common History


In the Southern Camp

A Voice from the South

Nat Turner Revisited

Final Solutions


Hell Reconsidered

Auschwitz and Hiroshima

A Wheel of Evil Come Full Circle

Disorders of the Mind

Why Primo Levi Need Not Have Died

Prozac Days, Halcion Nights

“Interior Pain”

Warfare and Military Life


The Red Badge of Literature

A Farewell to Arms



The Wreckage of an American War

A Father's Prophecy


The Death-in-Life of Benjamin Reid

Benjamin Reid: Aftermath

Aftermath of “Aftermath”

The Joint

A Death in Canaan

Death Row


Havanas in Camelot

Les Amis du Président

François Mitterrand

Family Values

Clinton and the Puritans


Chicago: 1968

Down the Nile


Lie Down in Darkness

“I'll Have to Ask Indianapolis—”

Letter to an Editor

The Paris Review

The Long March

We Weren't in It for the Money

The Book on

Fessing Up

The MacDowell Medal


William Faulkner

“O Lost!” Etc.

An Elegy for F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Second Flowering

A Literary Forefather

Friends and Contemporaries

My Generation

Robert Penn Warren

Lillian's Bosom

Irwin Shaw

Jimmy in the House

Celebrating Capote

James Jones

Transcontinental with Tex

Peter Matthiessen

Bennett Cerf

Bob Loomis

Philip Rahv

Remembering Ralph

C. Vann Woodward

It Cannot Be Long

My Neighbor Arthur

Big Jim

The Contumacious Mr. Roth

Crusades, Complaints, Gripes

If You Write for Television…

Fie on Bliss

The Habit

Cigarette Ads and the Press

Too Late for Conversion or Prayer


The Big Love



Virginia Durr for President

My Daughters

Our Model Marriage

In Closing

Walking with Aquinnah

“In Vineyard Haven”

Editor's Note

My Generation
includes all individual pieces of writing from William Styron's two previous collections of nonfiction: forty-four items from
This Quiet Dust
and fourteen from
Havanas in Camelot
. To these have been added thirty-three new items—essays, memoirs, op-eds, articles, eulogies, speeches—seven of them previously unpublished. The result is a comprehensive collection that covers a period of fifty years, from October 7, 1951, when Styron published an autobiographical note in the
New York Herald Tribune Book Review
, to August 19, 2001, when he delivered a tribute to Philip Roth at the MacDowell Colony.
My Generation
is not, however, an omnium gatherum. A full listing of Styron's published nonfiction is provided in the back matter of this book; his papers at Duke University contain additional items that have not yet seen print. Most of these writings will likely be included, some years hence, in a collected edition of Styron's works. For now,
My Generation
brings together his most important essays, reviews, and memoirs and demonstrates the high quality and wide range of his achievement in nonfiction.

This Quiet Dust
, the only nonfiction collection that Styron published during his lifetime, exists in two editions. The first was published by Random House in 1982, the second by Vintage Books in 1993. For the Vintage edition Styron added six previously uncollected essays and substituted a later reminiscence of his friend James Jones for the memoir that he had included in the 1982 edition. Styron prepared a good deal of new writing for the edition of 1982: a “Note to the Reader”; separate introductions to three of the sections; and a further report on the fate of Benjamin Reid, the prisoner whose cause he had originally taken up in 1962. Of these materials only the report on Reid, called “Aftermath of ‘Aftermath,' ” is included here. The other pieces were prepared specifically for
This Quiet Dust
and belong with that volume, which remains in print.
Havanas in Camelot
, published in 2008, two years after Styron's death, is also still in print, as is
Darkness Visible
, Styron's memoir of depression, a separate work of nonfiction that is one of his great achievements.

Styron organized the items in
This Quiet Dust
into eleven sections. Following his example I have grouped the writings in
My Generation
into sixteen categories. Most of the items within each category are presented chronologically, by date of composition or publication, but I have departed from this practice occasionally to allow items to play against one another or to show the progress of Styron's thinking on a particular issue over time.

For previously collected items in
My Generation
, I have followed the texts from
This Quiet Dust
Havanas in Camelot
. For heretofore uncollected writings, I have used the texts of first periodical or newspaper appearances. When a manuscript or typescript version of an individual item survives in Styron's papers, I have checked the published text against that earlier text. Apart from a few typos, however, I have found no significant variations. Occasionally a magazine or newspaper was compelled to shorten a piece of writing for space; in these cases the longer version is published here. The texts of the previously unpublished items are taken from manuscripts or typescripts among Styron's papers. A citation giving date of publication or composition appears within brackets at the end of each item. Styron's annotations from
This Quiet Dust
have been preserved. I have added several editorial annotations, marked by my initials. A few other notes and citations appear in the back matter of the volume.

In the spring of 1989 Styron was invited to review Michael Shnayerson's biography of Irwin Shaw for
Vanity Fair
. Styron began writing the review and set down some two thousand words, intending to provide a full reminiscence of his friend, who had served as an early supporter and mentor. At this point Styron was informed by the editors at
Vanity Fair
that the magazine wanted only one thousand words. Styron recalibrated and produced a review of that length, much shorter on incident and detail. This review appeared in the August 1989 issue. For this volume, I have combined the original two-thousand-word beginning, previously unpublished, with an abbreviated version of the
Vanity Fair
text. The abbreviations eliminate repetitions; the juncture between the two versions is indicated by three asterisks. This portmanteau text appears in the section “Friends and Contemporaries.” Manuscripts of both versions survive in Styron's papers at Duke, and the full
Vanity Fair
text is available online at the website of that magazine. The original two-thousand-word beginning appears in
My Generation
in its entirety.

Styron was primarily a novelist, but he took quite seriously his role as a public author and invested a good deal of effort and energy in the composition of his nonfiction. He was closely attuned to the issues and concerns of his time: as the years passed and he found himself unable to move forward with his fiction, he turned increasingly to the essay and op-ed forms to put his ideas on the record. He was also a good memoirist and found the form an agreeable one in which to write. During his last years he produced much excellent nonfiction, including “Nat Turner Revisited,” “Prozac Days, Halcion Nights,” “Auschwitz and Hiroshima,” “A Case of the Great Pox,” “Havanas in Camelot,” and “A Wheel of Evil Come Full Circle.” All of these pieces are included here, together with much other noteworthy writing from earlier in his career. It is my belief that he would have been pleased by the publication of this volume.


May 1, 2014

BOOK: My Generation
6.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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