From One Author To Another, Letters Of Praise

Host Scott Simon reads some of the best fan mail to authors, written by authors.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

That letter from Ernest Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald fits into a history of great writers writing each other. Norman Mailer tucked a note into the pages of one of his novels and sent it to Hemingway.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Reading) Because finally after all these years, I am deeply curious to know what you think of this. But if you do not answer, or if you answer with the kind of crap you use to answer unprofessional writers, sycophants, brownnosers, etc., then (beep) you. I will never attempt to communicate with you again. And since I suspect that you're even more vain than I am, I might as well warn you that there is a reference to you on page 353 which you may or may not like.

SIMON: Hemingway did not reply, but only because the Havana post office couldn't find Hem's address. Norman Mailer's book and note were returned unread. In 1942, Henry Miller mailed a letter to young Carson McCullers to ask if she could send copies of her two new novels to friends abroad. She wasn't sure that this Henry Miller was the man who wrote "Tropic of Cancer," but she took a chance.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) I first came across your work years ago, when I was a youngster banging around New York, and I shall never forget that experience. Later, I was able to borrow more of your work from a friend. Then, when I had some money, I tried to buy both these books in New York, but for some reason I was unable to get hold of them. I wanted to own them, so if you are my Henry Miller, will you tell me where I can order them, or ask the publisher to send them to me with a bill?

SIMON: After taking a break to sip red wine, Carson McCullers concluded:

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) The wine down here has a flavor of dead cockroaches and God knows how they make it. But I wanted something, for your letter excited me. If you are the Henry Miller I know, it is a great thing for me to know how you feel about my work. If, however, I have made a mistake, please forgive me. And thank you again for your letter.

SIMON: She had the right Henry Miller. Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" was published in 1966 to huge acclaim - but not from writer William S. Burroughs. He wrote an open letter to Capote, which he begins by saying: this is not a fan letter in the usual sense - or in any sense.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Reading) You have written a dull, unreadable book which could have been written by any staff writer on The New Yorker. You have betrayed and sold out the talent that was granted you by this department. That talent is now officially withdrawn. Enjoy your dirty money. You will never have anything else. You will never write another sentence above the level of "In Cold Blood." As a writer, you are finished. Over and out.

SIMON: Roger that. Writers send both bricks and bouquets by tweets now. And some of us like to quote the telegram Ben Hecht sent his writing partner Charles MacArthur from Hollywood: Come quick, they're throwing away money.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: