Often compared to William Faulkner, renowned American writer William Humphrey (1924–1997) sought to shatter myths about the South in such acclaimed novels as Home from the Hill, The Ordways, and Proud Flesh and in his voluminous short stories, critical essays, and memoirs. This collection of Humphrey's best letters deserves space on the bookshelf alongside these earlier works. Beginning in the 1940s when, as a true starving artist, he wore borrowed clothes and could afford only one meal a day, the letters move to his time as a goatherd, his stint as a teacher at Bard College, and his middle years in Europe. They continue as he returns to America and teaches at Washington and Lee, MIT, Princeton, and Smith, and decrease in number as his health declines in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Humphrey corresponded with some of the central figures in the literary and intellectual life of the twentieth century, including writers such as Katherine Anne Porter and Leonard Woolf, and the publishers Alfred and Blanche Knopf. His letters present a vivid picture of Humphrey as he provides commentary on his contemporaries through personal observations combined with sharp critical judgments. Humphrey amuses readers with witty anecdotes and charming tales, including a hilarious account of Christmas dinner with Robert Lowell, a story about British intellectual Cyril Connolly's near arrest in New York City, and a series of enchanting misunderstandings between Humphrey and his French publisher.
The letters also provide remarkable insights into Humphrey's own works, showing him to be a man happiest when he forgot about himself but also prone to plunging into despondency. The correspondence unforgettably reveals his troubled soul and his life as a quintessential artist: a man with the unswerving drive to make a lasting contribution to American literature.
Ashby Bland Crowder is the Peace Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Hendrix College. He is the author of Wakeful Anguish: A Literary Biography of William Humphrey, as well as the editor of Far from Home: Selected Letters of William Humphrey and two volumes of The Complete Works of Robert Browning.
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