Photographs by
Nancy Crampton

Forward by Mark Strand
(Quantuck Lane Press)
Nancy Crampton has been stalking writers since, she notes, she found W. H. Auden's name in 1972 in the Manhattan phone book and called him up there in the East Village and ended up taking "my first literary portrait." Since then, she has specialized in head-on, eye-to-eye black-and-white shots of famous writers.

104 turn up here, along with quotes from interviews or their own text. Forty-five of these are from Paris Review interviews, and are as obtuse as you could want. Writers writing about writing come out sounding loutish, mirror-looking-at-the-mirror stuff.

From reading what the writers say in Writers, we learn that the rule of thumb is this: second-rate writers talk about themselves, inevitably dropping in the name of one of their titles in case we don't know who they are. The great writers don't because they don't have to waste our time (or theirs).The only one really worth its salt is from S. J. Perelman. A very dry, very funny interview appeared in Paris Review, where, among other things, he said: "In this very large country, where size is all and where Thomas Wolfe outranks Robert Benchley, I am content to stitch away at my embroidery hoop."

And, yes, Roth. Crampton notes: "I make up my mind to shoot Philip Roth on one of the local country roads" in Litchfield County, Connecticut. "After the third or fourth road, Philip says, 'Nancy, the road didn't write the book.'"

The photographs? Revealing; indeed, they say perhaps too much about their subjects. The most angelic is James Baldwin (he's wearing a white djellaba.) The most pained face of them all belongs to William Maxwell.

    Most Sly: Kurt Vonnegut

    Most Arch: Edna O'Brien

    Prettiest (Standard, American): John Irving

    Prettiest (Ivy League): Mark Strand

    Most Show-Off (With Fedora): Harold Brodkey

    Most Vampirish: Margaret Atwood

    Most Merry: Stanley Kunitz

    Most Hearty: Gabriel García Márquez, Harold Bloom (tie)

    Most Hunky: James Jones

    Most Arty: Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Sexton (tie)

    Worst Teeth: Joseph Heller, Robert Penn Warren (tie)

    Most Decadent: W. H. Auden

    Most Fatuous: Alice Munro

    Most Neurotic: Robert Lowell

The Most Surprising: Truman Capote (quite lively --- although he was to die three months later). And the Most Lively of Them All ... by a league, completely in his own league ... and getting twelve shots as a result: Studs Terkel.

--- Leslie Wright

Photographs ©2005 Nancy Crampton

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