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Caroline Simon

When a Man Loves a Woman--As a Friend (Part 1)

As recently as last March, as good a columnist as Joseph Epstein is, he was again asking "Can Men and Women Be Friends?" (Chicago Tribune Magazine, March 2, 1997). The question reminds me of an old joke about a conversation between two people at an interdenominational gathering. One person asks the other, "Do you believe in infant baptism?" The second person responds, "Believe in it? Why, I've actually seen it done!"

Our eroticized culture may take a jaded view of the prospects for friendship between the generic Woman and the generic Man, but even the most worldly among us may be silenced when faced with the indisputable excellence of one such actual friendship. Our questions can then turn from "Is this possible?" to "How can I participate in that?"

The Delicacy and Strength of Lace (Greywolf Press, 1986) contains the remarkable correspondence, over an 18-month period, of two talented writers, Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright. Silko, a Laguna Pueblo Indian who has since won great acclaim as a novelist, essayist, and poet, was 30 years old when their friendship began, living in Arizona and trying to carry on her career while teaching part-time in university writing programs. James Wright, 20 years her senior, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and professor of English at Hunter College in New York. As Anne Wright, who edited the book, says in her introduction, "Leslie Silko and James Wright met only twice. The delicacy and strength of their friendship was to grow through letters." Their first brief meeting was at a writers conference in 1975; their last meeting was in a hospital room where James Wright lay dying of cancer.

The relationship that unfolds in The Delicacy and Strength of Lace is a fitting vehicle for reflecting on the special gifts conferred by friendships between women and men. The affection and support between Silko and Wright display the basic structure of such friendships, which, among the varieties of human affection, have their own distinctive excellence. ...

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