"Whatever may happen in the bad times, the verbal arts, at least, tend to become very important. It’s really important what you say in the bad times.” Ursula Le Guin 2017 Conversations on Writing with David Naimon
The first month of 2018 was not yet over before Ursula Le Guin died. No Time To Spare, her wonderful selection of online writing, especially for her blog, had been a Christmas hit in December. I bought it Christmas Eve at Kepler's Bookstore in Menlo Park, California.
This Christmastime I returned to Kepler's and saw a special LeGuin endcap, with that book still featured, as well as collections of short stories, her last volume of poetry, and the collected Earthsea novels, plus a new book, Conversations on Writing, which consists of interviews she gave in 2017. This book suggests some of the reasons that Le Guin was and will remain a strong influence on other writers, and all kinds of writing.
In terms of her fictions, her particular gift of anthropological science fiction is likely to influence even more visions of the future, as that future is more and more shaped by climate and ecological crisis. Margaret Atwood notes that all the oppressive aspects of the future she imagines in her novel, The Handmaid's Tale, do happen in parts of the world or did happen in history. Many of the striking imaginings in Le Guin's novels are derived from Indigenous cultures of the past and present. Her insistence on cultural attributes that serve the Earth as well as humanity, and preserve a realistic relationship between them, will only grow in importance.
Tom Wolfe, did much to illuminate American life in the 20th century, and in so doing, helped define our view of our own culture.
Roth in his meticulous fictions, in both his grim and hilarious modes, and Simon in his comic plays and screenplays, explored Jewish-American experience, and revealed much about both sides of the hyphen. They also transcended nationality, imagining their way into other sorts of lives. Because Neil Simon was so popular, his achievement is perhaps undervalued, particularly his screenplays, including a lesser known gem like Max Dugan Returns. Tom Wolfe on the other hand came from the WASP world, and was equally comfortable writing about the rich and famous, and the oddball outcasts. He attempted more consciously to define the culture he observed.
Other prominent authors died in 2018, including physicist Stephen Hawking and screenwriter William Goldman, and most recently, Israeli novelist Amos Oz. But I also recall connections to work by some lesser-known figures: the British philosopher Mary Midgely, who did such crystalline work on evolution, and American philosopher Stanley Cavell, whose books on film I read in the early 70s.
I have a weakness for books on arts and entertainment history, and Gerald Nachman's Raised On Radio was a fairly recent and serendipitous delight. That's the thing about books--they are the most accessible legacy in the arts, small physical objects that circulate and are otherwise more easily available than films or TV shows, let alone the evanescence of performances.
|Anne Olivier Bell|
Peter Mayer was an accomplished publisher, the founder of Overlook Press. Fred Bass ran the Strand Bookstore, the New York Mecca for used books.
Donald Hall and Tom Clark are probably the best known poets in the US who died in 2018, at least among those who regularly read poetry, other poets being prominent among them. Though poets arguably still have a high profile in some parts of the world, many would seem to work in relative obscurity. But they write on anyway, and even if their readers are few, they still can touch individual lives at particular moments, in the unpredictable serendipity of the written word.
What follows is not an exhaustive list of poets who died in 2018. But it is a long one, and testifies to the endurance of this form in every part of the world. Even if many are not mentioned elsewhere, they are due the honor of being named this once:
Tom Leonard, Julia Vinograd, Janet Paisley, Jerry Gant, Fernando del Paso, E.D. Blodgett, Meena Alexander, Claude Peloquin, David Helwig, Francois Montmaneix, Gyorgy Karoly, Peter Everwine, Priscilla Uppal, Lady Judith Kazantis, Vishnu Khare, Robin Metz.
|Jalal Mansur Nurridin|
May they all rest in peace. Their work lives on.