What is the struggle of writing?

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


Calvin Trillin: Well I think writing is . . . It’s not the actual sentences. I mean it’s not the language, I think, for most people. I think you can write a sentence as well as you can write it. I mean it sounds like a truism; but in fact if you work on it long enough, write it enough times, you can write it as well as you can write it. You may not write it as well as John Updike could write it, but you can write it as well as you can write it. The hard part of most writing, I think, is the structure of wanting to know . . . of trying to figure out what goes first, and what goes second, and how that leads into something that doesn’t jump around. Or at least the hard part of the sort of writing I usually do. I think the hard part of, say, trying to write a column or a piece of humor is just staring at the page and realizing you might not be able to write anything. I mean that’s not true in reporting pieces where you have sort of a corpus to work on.


Recorded on: 9/5/07