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Wilfrid Sheed, Writer Of Wit And Faith, Dies At 80

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Wilfrid Sheed, Writer Of Wit And Faith, Dies At 80

Remembrances

Wilfrid Sheed, Writer Of Wit And Faith, Dies At 80

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And we remember another writer today. Wilfrid Sheed has died. The author of a wide range of books, both novels and nonfiction, was born in London, into a literary family. His parents founded a prominent Catholic publishing house and raised Sheed in the United States. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, first met him when Sheed was living in Spain, and he has this remembrance.

ALAN CHEUSE: A slender, vigorous pale-faced talker, cigar-smoker, drinker, Bill Sheed was one of the first serious working writers I'd ever met and the first Catholic intellectual.

This was in Spain, on the Costa Del Sol, in the winter and spring of 1962, in the little fishing village of Fuengirola, where I took up residence in a drafty stucco apartment on the beach because I wanted to be a writer. And, here's the logic, here were the bullfights old Hemingway had celebrated and the cafes for good talk.

Bill Sheed stood tall, in metal braces, the legacy of his adolescent bout with polio, at the center of an impromptu bunch of writers and artists living in this dusty village.

He was for all of his early British upbringing and his devotion to his faith, absolutely without pretension, speaking with the same straightforward wit and humor and kindness that he deployed when he went drinking with me and my working-class American pals as he did with the visiting Sir Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin Books.

Bill had just begun a decade of fiction-making that produced a series of wonderfully comic novels. "A Middle Class Education," the first of these, had just come out, and I devoured it, feeling the pain, enjoying the laughter at almost every page.

At darts or at the beach or at the village cafe, Bill, with his wit and knowledge, always made us laugh. And now and then, he dispensed pungent advice to a young writer. Stamina, he'd say, that's what you need, something he had learned his from his early wrestling match with polio. Sit down and start writing. At the beginning, there'll be a dozen of your contemporaries to the left of you, a dozen to the right. Don't look up for about 10 years, and when you do, you'll see that most of them will have stopped.

Now, all these years later, Bill has stopped, sad to think of it. But in my mind's eye I can still see him tossing down his last Spanish brandy of the afternoon and leaving us behind in the cafe as he made his clanky braces-bound way up the steps to the church door. He would pause, turn back to look at us, wave and then flick his ubiquitous cigar into the oncoming darkness as he walked through the high portico to commune, as he often talked about it, with his maker.

SIEGEL: Wilfrid Sheed died at the age of 80. Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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