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-by Larry Woiwode
Isn't There a Simpler Way of Saying It?
For anyone interested in the way good writing gets put down on the page and published, this book is a gift, plain and simple. For actual practitioners it's more-a handbook of professional practice, as that practice is carried out in New York publishing. The book is a collection of letters, and through the exchange of correspondence the reader follows a duo working together to produce as much of the best writing they can.
The letters unveil the relationship between writer and editor, when that relationship is as it should be. This partly occurs, perhaps, because both correspondents are writers; it just happens that one has a half-week job as an editor. Once they begin putting together publishable stories and writing to one another about them, the pace at which they build on each other's abilities is enlightening.
Though family members and other editors occasionally join in the exchange, most of the letters are between Frank O'Connor and William Maxwell. O'Connor, a protege of Yeats and AE (George Russell), was a notable figure in the Irish literary Renaissance kindled by Yeats and Russell. O'Connor was indeed a Renaissance man. Self-taught, a translator of Old Irish and Gaelic, he wrote poetry, short stories, plays, biographies, autobiography, memoirs, literary criticism, cultural criticism, history, essays, reviews, and polemics. As he said of himself, "I had always wanted to write poetry, but I realized very early on that I didn't have much talent that way. Story telling is a compensation; the nearest thing one can get to the quality of a pure lyric poem."
At the time of his death in 1966, O'Connor was recognized as one of the foremost Irish writers of the century. No less an eminence than V. S. Pritchett wrote in 1969: "It has often been said that Ireland is packed with genius but is short of talent. Frank O'Connor was one of a distinguished generation who had both. His powerful and outspoken voice, above all his moral courage-not a common Irish trait-gave him the air ...