ashbery explains a nest of ninnies


James Schuyler and I began writing A Nest of Ninnies purely by chance. It was July 1952 and we were being given a lift back to New York from East Hampton, N.Y. where we had spent the weekend as guests of the musical comedy librettist John Latouche. Latouche planned to make a short movie starring us and our friend Jane Freilicher called “Presenting Jane,” from a scenario by Schuyler. A few scenes had just been shot, including a scene of Jane walking on water (actually a submerged dock on Georgica Pond); the film was never finished though Schuyler’s script recently surfaced and is going to be published soon. Now we were in a car being driven by the young cameraman, Harrison Starr, with his father as a passenger in the front seat. Since neither Jimmy nor I knew the Starrs very well, we at first contented ourselves with observing the exurban landscape along the old Sunrise Highway (this was before construction of the now infamous Long Island Expressway). Growing bored, Jimmy said, “Why don’t we write a novel?” And how do we do that, I asked. “It’s easy—you write the first line,” was his reply. This was rather typical of him—getting a brilliant idea and then conscripting someone else to realize it. Not to be outmaneuvered, I contributed a three-word sentence: “Alice was tired.”

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