For a few years early in this decade, I worked as a researcher/writer for Garrison Keillor's show The Writers' Almanac. I remember clearly that on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was working on the script for the week of October 22, 2001. I was working on a piece about the writer Harold Brodkey (born October 25, 1930) when Clara called and told me to turn on the television.
GK demanded that Writers' Almanac scripts not sound too much like term papers. The trick was to deliver humorous or pithy anecdotes, not condensed literary criticism. I wasn't always successful at giving the great man exactly what he wanted, and what eventually aired on the radio was always different from what I had actually written. For example, here's my original piece on Harold Brodkey, written before and after the twin towers collapsed:
It’s the birthday of novelist and short story writer Harold Brodkey, born in Alton, Illinois (1930). He began working on his first novel in 1962, and over the next thirty-two years became famous for not publishing it. For years, the novel, The Runaway Soul, appeared in his publisher’s catalogue, only to be withdrawn as he continued to work on it in his cork-lined, Upper West Side apartment. “Publishing would interfere with working on it,” he said. In the meantime, in 1973 he published his most famous story, “Innocence,” with devotes thirty-one pages to the description of a single sexual act. Sections of his first novel appeared in the 1988 collection Stories in an Almost Classical Mode. The novel itself finally came out in 1994, two years before the author’s death from AIDS. Harold Brodkey said: “It’s dangerous to be as good a writer as I am.”
And here is what GK actually said on the air:
It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Harold Brodkey, born in Alton, Illinois (1930). He began working on his first novel in 1962, and over the next 32 years became famous for not publishing it. For years, the novel, The Runaway Soul, appeared in his publisher's catalogue, only to be withdrawn as he continued to work on it in his cork-lined Upper West Side apartment. "Publishing would interfere with working on it," he said.
Slightly abbreviated, but actually not too bad.
I was thinking about Harold Brodkey in his cork-lined New York apartment when the first plane hit the tower. It was Harold Brodkey's birthday again on October 25, 2002 when Paul Wellstone's plane went down.
"I do not really understand this erasure," Brodkey wrote, as he inched toward his own death.
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