Calvin Trillin
Author / Journalist

What Keeps Calvin Trillin Up At Night

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Calvin Trillin describes his irrational fear of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

Calvin Trillin

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)


Question: What keeps you up at night?

Calvin Trillin: Oh, small matters like whether the boiler guy is gonna come and when [I’m] supposed to get things. I usually go to sleep and wake up and I’m thinking of these things. I’m not sure they wake me up. I once gave a talk not long after 9/11 to some library people in Brooklyn; I mean friends of the library in Brooklyn or something like that, and someone said are you concerned about flying after 9/11; you fly a lot, and I said yeah what concerns me is that you have to show your I.D. so much. I’m afraid I’ll lose my driver’s license, and you might say I’m more afraid of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles than I am of Arab terrorists, and a week or two later I got a letter from somebody in the audience who said she knew of a very good psychiatrist who specialized in people who were worried about small matters such as that, and I said well that actually was a joke, but sometimes I think I could use that guy.

Recorded on:  October 8, 2009