What impact does your writing have?

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

Calvin Trilin: Oh not a whole lot of impact. You know I always thought that reporters who think that they’re actually affecting things are following the path to madness or pomposity or something. I mean I . . . The only time I ever met Jane Jacobs, the great urbanist, was in Toronto after she moved from here. And we were talking about the effect of one’s work and the impact on changes that might be made – governments falling and things like that. And she said . . . And this is a woman who I think had tremendous influence on city planners, and people who write about cities. And she said when she looked back over the . . . whatever it was, “The Death and Life of American Cities” or whatever it was, that big book . . . she said she imagined a church in the village that, at night, locked its gates of its playground and had barbed wire on top of the gates. And she said after the book came out they took the barbed wire down. They still had the gates locked. And I said the only thing I could think of that I affected was I once affected the clerk – or I’m told . . . I never checked this out – the clerk of the county court race in Lecture County Kentucky with a piece that I thought was about something else. But somebody didn’t come out very well in it, and she ran for clerk of the country court, and people apparently got a hold of the piece. And so I don’t think . . . I think that I would settle for maybe giving somebody a smile on the Madison Avenue bus after a hard day when he or she reads The New Yorker. I don’t . . . I think the idea that you’re gonna have an impact is a kind of pipe dream.

 

Recorded on: 9/5/07


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