Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
What sets this work apart from other recent memoirs is that Elman (Tar Beach) is finally less revealing of himself than of his cultural milieu. Through brief essays, Elman records his encounters with a range of important and interesting public figuresÄmostly other writers but also musicians, actors and politicians. As a poetry student of Yvor Winters, Elman was housemates with Alexander Kerensky and classmates with Tillie Olson and the British poet Thom Gunn, while in New York as a freelancer Elman cultivated a relationship with his hero Isaac Bashevis Singer and crossed paths with the likes of Walker Evans, Robert Lowell and Faye Dunaway. If Elman is often candidly critical of his subjectsÄhe writes that Hunter Thompson had little to say about Las Vegas that a kindergartner didn't already knowÄhe is equally critical of himself and quotes Singer's assertion that "it's hard to be a writer without gifts," while musing that perhaps he, Elman, should study for a profession. One thing Elman provides, if apparently inadvertently, is a fascinating history of the "listener-sponsored" Pacifica Radio Foundation, for which Elman produced pieces on James Agee and Hart Crane. Elman is both poignant, as when he recalls finally meeting the other, better known Richard EllmannÄa gathering that included Hannah Arendt, Dwight MacDonald and Daniel BellÄand bawdy, as when he describes how Little Richard masturbated twice during an interview. Not all of the anecdotes in this collection are substantive enough to stand alone, but read together they are engaging and enlightening. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
An erratic, often overreaching collection of quickie biographical recollections of great, not so great, and utterly unknown litterateurs and artistes. Like most of the men and women profiled here, Elman (Tar Beach, 1991, etc.) labored in semiobscurity for much of his life. His 25-plus books (many now out of print) were enough to free him from freelancing and get him onto the college creative writing circuit but have not secured him anything approaching literary renown. As he recounts in one of the more amusing sketches, hes often confused with the great literary biographer of Joyce and Wilde, Richard Ellmann. When the two men met at a party, Ellmann gleefully took him around, saying, ``Were Richard Elmans.'' Some of the portraits here, especially those of longstanding acquaintances such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, Tillie Olsen, and Yvor Winters, are right on target. Elmans impressions are sharp,, strongly drawn, and quite revealing. However, with most of the notable names featured here (Aldous Huxley, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg) he had only a passing acquaintance, an interview, a meeting at a conference or party; so though he occasionally musters a noteworthy insight, its built on tenuous foundations. In addition, the majority of the profiles here are of obscure people: fringe literary figures or tenure-track teachers of creative writing. Since he doesnt have the literary gifts to redeem them from their obscurity, Elman would have done well to drop their names completely from this collection. Falling prey to the occupational hazard of memoirists, narcissism, he also tends to see others too much in terms of himself.
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