writing for barzun


But my little dream of a fling with the polite world of publishing was not what happened to me. Instead I was introduced to a process that involved a lot of fear and pain. Jacques Barzun, then holding the position of literary adviser to Charles Scribner’s Sons, wrote and asked if I could write a book. Not only did he

wonder whether you would think it possible to make a short book of the ideas you broached in your essay, each of which I can see implying others in the domains of life and literature that you so adroitly shuttled between … [but] alternatively … is there some other topic on which you have meditated writing a book? Without wanting to be ranked suddenly as an art-for-art’s sake promoter, I must confess it is your writing I should like to see more of, on any subject.

Had I been an aspiring writer, I would have slumped to the floor and wept. But I wasn’t; I was an aspiring dabbler, and the only thing that happened was that my mind stopped functioning. This was not part of my plan. I had welcomed a diversion, not a crisis in my life. I milled around, looking at myself for a few days, trying to reconcile my version of me with the words in the letter, and I didn’t succeed.

more from Helen Hazen at The American Scholar here.