Calvin Trillin’s Freedom Ride

Calvin Trillin is a journalist, humorist and novelist. Best known for his humorous writing about food and eating, he is also the author of several books of fiction, nonfiction essays, comic verse and plenty of more serious journalism.

Trillin was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1935. He received his BA from Yale University, where he was chair of the Yale Daily News, in 1957. In 1963, after a serving in the U.S. Army and then working at Time magazine for a short time, Trillin joined the staff of The New Yorker magazine, where his reporting on racial integration at the University of Georgia eventually developed into his first book, An Education in Georgia: Charlayne Hunter, Hamilton Holmes and the Integration of the University of Georgia. Trillin's 1967-1982 column "U.S. Journal" for The New Yorker documented events throughout the nation, both funny and serious; since 1984, he has written a series of longer, narrative pieces under the title "American Chronicles."

Trillin is also a longtime contributor to The Nation magazine - is, in fact, the single most prolific contributor to that magazine to date. From 1978-1980 he penned a column called "Variation"; from 1984-1990 another called "Uncivil Liberties"; and from 1990 to the present a weekly one called "Deadline Poem" consisting of humorous poems about current events.

Calvin Trillin's most recent novel is Deciding the Next Decider: The 2008 Presidential Race in Rhyme (Nov. 2008)

  • Transcript


Question: What are your most memorable moments as a journalist?

Calvin Trillin: Some of the most dramatic were very early on when I spent a year in the south, and I was on the bus, the Freedom Ride bus, the first bus that went into Jackson, and I happen to be in the south in a very busy time. The segregation or integration story worked on plateaus because there was no real pressure from Washington, so not had much had happened in the six months before I got there, but a lot happened in the year I was there. And there were two people for Time in the southern bureau. I replaced a guy who I think had left six or eight months before. There just hadn’t been anybody, and the bureau chief was married and had a few children and to my astonishment actually preferred to stay home rather than get chased by people with clubs in terrible places. I was delighted that he would let me do that, but I couldn’t imagine why anybody would do that. I later learned that it was a more sensible way to lead your life, so I guess when I think of sort of dramatic moments I think of the south.

Recorded on:  October 8, 2009