What do you do?

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

TRANSCRIPT

Question: Beyond a simple title, how would you describe what you do for a living?

Calvin Trillin: Well there isn’t any simple title, so it has to be beyond a simple title. I used to say I was a reporter. And I live in Nova Scotia in the summer, and my wife used to say, “You shouldn’t say you’re a reporter when people ask you what you do. You’re actually more like a writer than a reporter ‘cause you do a lot of other things.” And so the next time we came home from Nova Scotia, we were in the customs line after getting off the ferry at our harbor late at night, and these two sweet little girls sleeping the back seat. And the guys said, “What do you do?” And I said, “I’m a writer.” And they just took the car apart on me, and I think they took the hubcaps off. And I said, “I’m going back to being a reporter. I think I’d rather describe myself as a reporter.” I think what I do is all based on being a reporter, but it comes out in different ways. I . . . The New Yorker has been sort of headquarters for what I do since 1963, so for a long time. And most of the stuff I’ve done for The New Yorker, certainly by words, has been relatively straight reporting; but I’ve also done attempts at humor for The New Yorker, and I’ve written . . . For about 20 years I wrote a column, “First For the Nation”, and then for newspaper syndication, and then for Time magazine. And I now still write what we call “Deadline Poetry for the Nation”. That’s more averse than poetry. The word “___________” has been used also to describe it. And I’ve written a few memoirs and a few novels. So I write a lot of different things. I think my publisher says in releases, “I’m very versatile.” The other way to look at it is I’ve never quite gotten my act together.

 

 


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