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Allen Tate in VQR

November 29, 2009

Allen Tate

Allen Tate was heartened to see the inaugural issue of VQR. The Fugitive, the magazine he had helped found in Nashville in 1922, was struggling and would publish its final number in a matter of months. Tate was hopeful that VQR would succeed where others had failed. On June 26, 1925, he wrote editor James Southall Wilson:

I suppose you can’t precisely please everybody but the Virginia Quarterly Review is such a pleasant adventure after the many preliminary "little magazines" of the so called renascence in the South, that it certainly ought to engage the attention of all Southern writers, among whom I have the pleasure of numbering myself.

From 1925 to 1970, Tate submitted over twenty poems and a dozen essays to VQR. Over the course of this long relationship, the magazine published five of his poems (some of which number among his most discussed verse), five of his most famous and frequently quoted essays, and one book review. Tate’s personal correspondence with VQR’s editors through the years reveals a passionate and sometimes confrontational writer who wanted most of all to be recognized as a penman of the South.


Carl Sandburg in VQR

November 10, 2009

The historian, musician, and poet visited us in 1927, and sent us seven poems afterwards. We present here, for the first time, those original manuscripts.

John Crowe Ransom in VQR

November 6, 2009

The five essays he published with us in the 1930s reveal the evolution of his thoughts and ideas about the contemporary South and its literature.

Punk Poet Jim Carroll Passes Away

September 14, 2009

Yesterday evening, I read that poet Jim Carroll passed away this weekend from a heart attack at just sixty years old. I surprised myself by crying for a man I did not even know.

Thomas Wolfe’s Final Journey

August 14, 2009

On September 15, 1938, Thomas Wolfe, author of the novels Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River, died unexpectedly at the age of thirty-seven. For the literary world, the death of the talented and ambitious young writer was a profound and tragic loss. As the New York Times observed in an unsigned article the next day

His was one of the most confident young voices in contemporary American literature, a vibrant, full-toned voice which it is hard to believe could be so suddenly stilled. The stamp of genius was upon him, though it was an undisciplined and unpredictable genius. . . . There was within him an unspent energy, an untiring force, an unappeasable hunger for life and for expression which might have carried him to the heights and might equally have torn him down. . . .

Many publications echoed these sentiments, including Time in their Sept. 26, 1938 issue:

The death last week of Thomas Clayton Wolfe shocked critics with the realization that, of all American novelists of his generation, he was the one from whom most had been expected. He had almost finished his third novel when he contracted pneumonia in Seattle two months ago and was apparently recovering when an infection spread to his kidneys and heart. Rushed to Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, he was operated on twice during the week, [and] died of an acute cerebral infection. . . .

VQR had published one of Wolfe’s earliest stories and the passing of this vital literary figure prompted VQR to solicit another. Nine months after Wolfe’s death, the Summer 1939 issue of VQR contained the last words Wolfe penned, an excerpt from a journal called “A Western Journey,” written just weeks before he died.


Wallace Stegner in VQR

July 22, 2009

Wallace Stegner

“Every writer is born to write one story,” Wallace Stegner once said during an interview. In his case, that story was rich enough to generate over a dozen novels—including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Angle of Repose—as well as fifty-eight short stories, one memoir, two biographies, two histories, and innumerable essays. Stegner’s story—of ambition and violence in the American west, families bound and divided, and our own messy American history—hasn’t ceased to be relevant, beautiful, and penetrating.

Wallace Stegner was born in 1909 on his grandfather’s farm in Lake Mills, Iowa, but Stegner’s father soon took his family west. And that time out west would inform Stegner's sense of self and his writing for the remainder of his life:

I may not know who I am, but I know where I am from. I've got an exaggerated sense of place . . . my personal experiences are all I surely know, and those experiences are very likely to be rooted in places.

Much of Stegner’s writing grew out of his itinerant upbringing, a self-described “wandering childhood” that took him to North Dakota, Washington, Saskatchewan, Montana, Utah, Nevada, and California. In one of his first letters to VQR, he explained that he was “working on a novel of a picaresque nature based partially on the migration of my family through the Western U.S. and Canada.” Many of the stories he produced during this time were later put to use in that novel (The Big Rock Candy Mountain). Stegner was sensitive to the fact that he might be known as “that fellow who writes stories only about little boys in Saskatchewan,” but it was obvious from the beginning that there were greater tensions in his work, greater troubles in the world beyond a farm boy’s fear.

His writing first appeared in the pages of VQR in 1938, when he was a young college professor teaching in Wisconsin. In a book review that fall he wrote, “Somehow on the way to 1938, America has lost the knack of marching up the road to perfection by a series of regular steps.” Indeed, the country had been struggling through the Great Depression for the better part of a decade, and another world war was brewing overseas. No doubt Stegner, like all great writers, had his ear to the ground during these difficult times; his stories could not help but be influenced by these ponderous issues, often in intensely personal ways.


Thomas Wolfe’s “Old Catawba” in VQR

July 8, 2009

[caption id="attachment_2524" align="alignright" width="192" caption="Thomas Wolfe, 1937 (photo by Carl Van Vechten)."]Thomas Wolfe, 1937 (photo by Carl Van Vechten).[/caption]

In 1929, Thomas Wolfe—whom William Faulkner described as the greatest writer of his generation—published his novel Look Homeward, Angel to rave reviews. The Virginia Quarterly Review took notice of this young writer from North Carolina and began a tumultuous courtship to bring Wolfe’s prose to the pages of the journal. This courtship spanned three editors and numerous entreaties, though neither side ever evinced the least bit of reluctance. The delay appears to lie with Wolfe, who was a furious, tinkering sort of writer, a fact evident not only in the staggering volume of work he left behind at the end of his abbreviated life, but also in his correspondence with VQR. Plagued by the pressure of pleasing others, saddled with financial woes despite his success, and never far from his next deadline, Wolfe’s brief relationship with VQR reveals a writer who was constantly struggling to balance his life with his craft, though he remained exuberantly committed through it all.

James Southall Wilson was the first VQR editor to query Wolfe, about appearing in Charlottesville at the Southern Writers Conference in the fall of 1931, an event that brought Sherwood Anderson, Allen Tate, and William Faulkner, among others, to the city. In his reply, Wolfe confided that he did not feel worthy of being included in such an august group: “I have published only one book and am sweating and agonizing over another.” He was sagging under the weight of his novel-in-progress and feared losing traction:

I’ve worked [on] my new book over a year—I had all the material for it a long time ago, but it’s been hell getting it in sequence—arranging, revising, shaping—a few months ago I got it straight in my head for the first time, and now I’m plugging away as hard as I can every day . . . It’s very hard for me to get started, and when I’m started I hate to stop until I’ve finished. Also, meeting new people has a very deep and powerful effect on me—particularly interesting and talented people: nothing excites and absorbs me more, and for this reason I go nowhere at present while I’m at work.