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Success in the arts. A recorded program produced by the Chicago undergraduate division of the University of Illinois under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Globalize to this for and it's always easier to convict a man of something you didn't do than it is to prove that what he actually was doing was a crime. That's why neighbors are tougher on the man without a record than they are in the finished criminal. They've got the finished product so they can afford to be friendly. It's the burden pops up in some corner of the never seen a room before. Claims he's never been arrested. He doesn't act like a thief. They can't find a set of prints of that kind worries them. They've got to find a crime to fit it. If he's innocent that takes persuasion. What a young fellow like you got to think about if you're going into crime serious as what any young businessman got to consider before you invest in anything. How can you wire yourself so that you take a fall you fall the least distance instead of the lowest you've got to wire yourself to the courts. The state's attorney's office police department. You can't trust just any old lawyer.
You don't learn a lot by going to law school. You gotta have someone who can operate behind the bench as well as in front of it behind the public prosecutor as well as in front of him. That is the voice of Nelson Algren reading one of his novels a walk on the wild side. Mr. Aldrin is joined today by Jack Conn Roy's book critic and editor of The New Standard cyclopedia. Dr. Irving Blom professor of nerd writing and literature University of Illinois undergraduate division. The moderator of the series is Studs Terkel well-known radio and television commentator. Here's Mr. Terkel to start the discussion of success in the art of writing. When I was an author and you've been described by Hemingway as one of America's two outstanding novelists What do you as a writer trying to say. Well I think I try to say something a little different in every book in this book I just finished. I try to ask something new about the survival qualities of women and men in that order meaning by that that I would like to
know why it is that those who have taken the most blows and suffered the most at the hands of man are the deepest believers in humanity while those who never take those are the ones who are most contemptuous of men. In short why is it that a man who has done hard penitentiary time once twice maybe three times can come out in a single day resume a life that's just one long yak where as somebody who never has done any time just has to go out and buy his laughter or. If I can press the point just a little bit more why is it that. A prostitute who actually doesn't actually go down the drain can develop and often does into a human being more sympathetic and more developed than a woman who has never had to struggle to keep from going down and shot down your once more challengingly accepted code the mores of our day.
It was a writers challenge Jack Connery was a critic. What do you see a good writer when you review a book. Well I feel a little diffident about being called a critic. You know I review mostly in newspapers and a critic is something much more pretentious than I as he's one he's one who knows what long a stern call critical camp or critical job I have. But I should say in general that in reviewing a book I should like to have the author know something about his material to be vitally interested in it and to express that material in the best way that he knows how. You know others in general have been rather a critical of critics. Shelly for example said I'm a reviewer he said reviewers with some rare exceptions are the most stupid and malignant race as a bankrupt thief tries thief taker in despair subtle and unsuccessful author turns critic and I have been unsuccessful I think and I've written novels myself.
Well this tender know it well then you as a critic then seek a writer who challenges whether it be the the natural elements or aspects of society. Someone who proves let's pass to the teacher Irving block you what you try to teach your students. Well I teach them first that I have no absolute formula for success and I make this statement regretfully because whenever I say it I can always feel a surge of disappointment running through the class. Beyond that I teach them that people learn through century impressions therefore writers must learn to titillate the senses. I. Make the point that there are more discriminating readers and that they think these discriminating readers sense false notes therefore Marte writers must know what they're talking about. Our world is made up of many smaller worlds whose orbits seldom intersect. I tell them don't write about unfamiliar worlds without excursions and
beyond that I tell them that there are no one breakable rules of rhetoric that style should grow naturally out of subject matter and most depressing of all that writing is hard work and often unrewarding. And you as a teacher try to instill in your students of the idea of seeking out something probing it and writing. Yes I do. Basically I tell them that it's hopeless unless they have something to say. I believe that this team of success needs and lack of it to which Jacqueline Jacqueline's lack of success themselves is really boasting in reverse. I think it needs it. He's talking about a certain kind of success there. There is the success that you see. Advertised material success. Well I often get literature asking me what was the who was the greatest writer who's the most successful writer that is of our time.
The plug asks Was it Hemingway for World. No it was a focus for sanctuary no was a good story of The Great Gatsby No it was Mrs Oldfield your potassium boy Washington for the recipe. First book Peapod she wrote she got a hundred thousand dollars for 25 words that provide ahead of all you know all the notes I think you've nailed a point here by success and then we'll forego the idea of material success for a moment. That's important. Let's think in terms cess as a craftsman. Success as a writer as an artist dash writer I can tell you how Frank Yerby does it. Let's talk about walk on the wild side. We walk on the wild side a bit. How does this book of yours AND NOTES differ in method as a writer from your previous novel The Golden Hour. Well the difference is I did this book different idea than the man with the Golden Arm because it's a book of reminiscence previous
books I've written have been directly from what you might call living situation in this book went back about well until the early 30s and in other words it was instead of just cutting lumber and tacking it on and seeing a house came out this was in this case someone was already cut and I had a little house plan going to build it which was playing a more open book. Did you plan the other books in Atlanta gnuplot No I never tried to plot before I just let the thing find its own plot where do you find that method. Dangerous I mean would you recommend that to writers that they some writers now for example make a sum up source of the plot or they make a synopsis of each chapter and write sort of intuitively I suppose as you did when you were in your first books just let the situation develop as it will from impressions not what you think is the better method per scribe either method I would because people think different ways.
I mean what's good for me would be for somebody else. If a person can't work in any other way except to plan ahead and buy synopsis he should do it that way but for me to be fatal because he can't think that. Do you do much rewriting and revising do you write much more than you'll need and then cut down or when it's finished is that it. No I revise as long as I'm able to revise in fact it's a problem because they revised so much that I don't make any progress I just keep rewriting the same thing. Is it a matter of making a series of drafts or is it something less formal. Do you just rewrite those portions which you feel need rewriting at that time. Everything every every time I write a page everybody gets a little longer to have two pages and you rewrite the page as you go along you rewrite a page add before you go to the next page or do you go back usually. Often that's interesting because many writers that finish a chapter sometimes even a whole book and then go back well not easily do that again an individual thing staccato writes quite a different thing I mean if
he can. He just you write pretty without almost any revision you like. First drafts don't I'm afraid my work shows that there was no you amazing thing to me to see somebody knock off four or five pages straight like that and see that it is so there's no one formula to be offered as far as writers are concerned they're just they're writing as many different ways as they have faces. Just as writers unique his talent has to be his approach is to be unique to a question often comes up and I know this is in the minds of both Mr. Conrad and Mr. Blair the question of pursuing a successful theme. What about that. So your previous book has been a success is there a tendency to stick to the same thing that I would say about what somebody is somebody who's making a thing of just one. One character right there what was the name of the you know the guy on the Glen Canyon Glen Canyon Saturday Evening Post and who else.
Well let's let's define a successful thing now how do you mean that staged You mean successful artistically that the author feels he works well in that milieu say and he does his best work there or whether it's sold Well I mean that is a good question I was thinking in terms of an author receiving critical acclaim as a result of having captured a certain vintage a certain media and that he feels therefore that that's his best they really should pursue it. Maybe Nelson would like you know. Well I don't think you can jump all over the world there are very few writers who can do handle more than one territory. You know anybody that I know of as Schoenberg has written has gone from nothing which is very close to an ERA over to Fitzgerald and he's covered and then over to the waterfront is the only writer I know of who can hop around like that for myself. You just live on one street I can find different people on it but I don't try and go further out into the
boat. Well what can you say that about a Saturday Evening Post writer I think it name it. JP McAvoy who uses the same characters but dresses them up in different clothes calls them by different names and places them in a different locale but they're always motivated about the same. What do you think about that kind of writing. Well it's it's just like they say it's made of library paste in popular taste it's just you know. It's text or you sent it. Yeah what about the amount of research that comes up very often. How how profound was the research. How intense. In talking about it well I don't know just what research is my only method is to expose myself to where the things that I'm interested in are happening and react to them.
I don't take notes of the answers. You mean the research. That's right I think you know you never take notes in terms of. I take mental notes. I know a certain writer whose name I won't mention who is always sitting around in restaurants and saloons industriously taking notes in them attempting to fit the notes into a story. I don't you think that's a rather bad way of going about getting a successful novel. Well you know I'm afraid to say I don't know who years you might be talking with him. Well it's not you. Do you know what doesn't come come back to the only him again. Each to his own technique here. It might be good for someone else perhaps. Well isn't it true now that you often you inadvertently come across material or more or less stumble into it now. I'm thinking of the business of you are seen through the police line up which I think probably you were the first American writer to deal with that sort of material. Very extensively and I think you did it so well that the television and the radio program has imitated your line up. Isn't it true it seems to me that I recall something about your having come into that sort of material or got interested in
it or gain an intimate knowledge of it rather by accident. Is that true. Oh I got mugged in a Southside once when I was 14 and my wristwatch so I went up to the police lineup to get it back and they gave me this little card I didn't identify the mugger's but used the car to get interested in me in the lineups and then again taking my friends it was an economical way of having a date and that was about nine hundred thirty nine thousand nine hundred forty eight the card was getting worn and one of the detectives in fact the card is falling apart and he asked me how much did you lose. I said $14 in that case so. That was a very rich source your right experience then is where you find it. They could be on the side of the billboard are behind the billboard. I made a virtue of necessity. Well as you know if you don't take notes Surely you must have a photographic mind
because your work is full of authentic detail what is the difference between your way of observing and other people's way of observing Why do you have these impressions these vivid impressions that other people don't have and how do you select them from what might be a massive rush. I can't answer that all of them questions other people who are not just certain things hit me and stay with me and considering the important visit here. Do you have a feeling about them versus something that has their own you know. You know when you're going to something when something good it's your action or to it matter really and I said well you know once when somebody says something and says it right like the kid said years ago and for that I heard in front of the judge when he was sentenced to death I knew I'd never get to be 21
anyhow. Well you know that's good you know I have to be intuitive You know that's good for the fellow that said they drug addicts I heard say I've got a 35 monkey on my back you know that's good. And the fall of the Jasc when he comes out of the county jail and you ask how it was and he says well it was from bell to bell. Well you've been described as a prose poem. How do you feel about that particular collision. I don't know just what a prose poet is to be writing as a trade and I work at it. He worried about that you know yes you know as Malcolm Cowley said you were the poet of the Chicago slum it seems to me recently you've been trying to deprecate that poetic quality in your work and that seems to be unfortunate because to me as one of the distinguishing marks it's it's what makes it different from the dreary monotonous stuff of James di Ferro For example it gives it some
sort of living and vital quality that these so-called still nor gophers don't have those who set their own things literally without any fire or imagination. Well maybe I lean backwards a little bit to get away from that because I'm conscious of having at one time all begun to write trying to write poetically with a capital P.. It began that way and I guess I have a little. When I see how bad that was I cringe away from the idea that I'd still be trying to write a letter. If anything I write turns out poetically I'm happy about it. I wouldn't want to do it on purpose. Well here again poetry is what you find out just as experience where you find it. So if we do have a critic your question comes up very often. We know one theater review us first night reviews of critics you consider pretty important other playwrights a lot about literary views in terms of a novelist does that make or break a novel I have my jacket
gritty. Yes well it can be I suppose it does have some effect upon sales although it's often difficult to determine that many of the novels that are best reviewed you know wind up on the remainders table selling for twenty nine cents after having sold a thousand copies I suppose. Reviews do have an indirect effect at home sales in that they the publisher himself may be fired by the reviewers enthusiasm particularly if they ask the reviewers are somewhat eminent want to made them go ahead and promote the book more than he would have otherwise. And what about this matter of promotion. I assume that's a factor as a promotion by the publisher is that a big deal when you have a promotion cost can make a book especially when they underwrite a book before and it doesn't necessarily mean that a book is successful on the other hand. I've known books that. Would not have gotten around would not have gotten had a success except that it was bought.
The success was bought by the promotion department on the other hand I've known every year I see at least two or three real gems that are just dropped or just lost by the way. I've I've known at least a dozen books like that that have had no promotion some of them are foreign books and for that reason get no promotion but they just don't get around because there isn't any money back so there's no denying that if you can buy newspaper space and keep it in you'll make a book a success. You know the words to some extent. Publishing is big business not to some extent it is. What part is that because they are fair play and a successful promotion of the book as they have demands made only much they make for a book you have to be willing. Well that's a terse answer if you think you do. There's no point to pursuing the matter further it's clear you know what I argue. I'm sure there in case there are other potential writers I respect no listening here and Nelson aren't you willing don't you do many promotional not stunts but don't get
my promotion appearances prior to the publication of you know part of publication of a book at pitches because take advantage. After all the publisher gets out a book he's got a lot a lot of money behind it and you feel that you feel that you owe him some kind of cooperation. Not only that but it's your book too. There's a great deal of talk of there has been some talk about the trend toward conformity in terms of demands of publishers. Is that a fact or is that just a myth that the trend is growing in terms of informing as far as publishing a concern for them writing anything about that. Well late last year Alfred Kazin the critic published a book called The emotionally and ended he says In our increasingly standardise world when even writers aspire to be well-adjusted it is good to remember the writer who is an independent
passionate and integrity spirit and I think that he has a good point there it seems to me that the role of the writer in the past has been traditionally that of the rebel the Nonconformist James Oppenheimer a poet of the 20s wrote a book the title of which was against this age. But nowadays the writers I think are responding to the demands of the publishers to make certain changes in their books at the publisher will say no this won't sale this situation is bad from a sales standpoint and I think you ought to change it in this way in order perhaps half the movies will buy it in advance and if you'll just make those unnecessary Cheers why we'll publish the book or otherwise we don't feel that we can take the risk. Do you feel there is a trend in that direction I think Sony was also put very well by Maxwell Geismar an article you wrote recently called The Age of walk home and work that is in which he he remarks how the growth of the role of the writers completely
changed the role there is now on the side of those with the heaviest armor the point now is to be a successful writer is. To guard yourself well not only to be liked but to be well liked by everybody. You know human fortune Yeah. And the criterion of success is well do you want to black or not. The We've completely reversed the role is in the praise that can was given to this Marjorie Morningstar for example where authority was. Where is it where the whole point seems to have been that the family is pretty good. Yeah and authority whatever it is should be abided by by the individual. This was in complete reversal of what she said when when he gave his
approval to Zoe at the time of the Dreyfus trial and nobody knew whether drivers was guilty or not and so the defendant Chekhov wrote that whether or not he's guilty doesn't make a difference only still right because he's at the place of the writer is always the charge the accused guilty or not guilty. Where we've now twisted that around in saying that the writer should always be on the side of the accuser. When I was playing a Pollyanna for the moment in the midst of this trend toward conformity How do you explain the success the acclaim of you. A rebellious writer or writer who challenges I can't account for it. I ducked and dodged in between publishers and when I have written a book somebody always publishes it. Up till now I don't think I am the representative writer at all I think. Well isn't there a place in the world for the man who neither applauds the existing were old nor deplores it but merely attempts to
depict it. That's not very exciting. Well no sense in a sense. Don't you do just exactly what Mom said. Yeah you look you are always there pressure. Yeah I don't got my show that you did. That's exactly what I thought you were but I didn't. Well certainly that's how you are a man with the Golden Arm seemed to me there seemed to be no special pleading for the characters nor any condemnation this was an objective for I don't know I think it's your own story if you put personal feeling behind it or made it a case of special pleading I am only conscious of depicting in that story in the end. Well that's far we've done it with success but not been a success artistically. Not for the moment let's face life as it is real and earnest about this matter of success. Let's talk about failure in terms of money. You know success will involve there. What about where is the agent figure in this picture how important is an agent to a writer
I think an agent is very important as much as a lawyer is when you go into court you've got to have an agent and I've had to. Two kinds of operations with agents have gone to the west coast and to the east the east coast of New York because every time I go there I feel a kind of people want to know what you're doing and they really want to. If you have something they want to know what it is and want to work with it and you always come back feeling kind of warm toward New York for that reason and the West Coast jumped out there and all I want to know is how much will you make. How much can they get from you that's when you come back an hour later. At least I've come back. That's the reason for it is that I assume that the West Coast agent was the same tribe as the East Coast no greater mistake. Could be me. The East Coast New York agent does the the
usual agent's job that is. Each year he uses his connections with a publishing trade to protect you with a contract with a publisher and I never knew an agent in New York who was not who didn't protect the writer against the publisher only on the East Coast they meet here at the train and I always sort of fancy them with these highly high white hats with gilt lettering and literate literary agent and they'll tell you right away that their literary agent because it says so on the door and they also tell you what a monster this producer is that they've got to protect you from what he does to people and everybody trying to get you to tell you they get to tell you what what how rough he is you just feel like maybe you ought to go and take the train and go home but. They say no it isn't necessary to do that because you got us to defend you and then they go all down the line for the producer or question you completely it is not if you're working in Hollywood
all year round there is fortunately a literary capital. Is the east not the west. I'm just thankful no. Mr. Block and I'd like to ask a question if it isn't too presumptuous since we're talking about money matters when we are let's face it. Do you want to like it. We would you know I don't and I miss him like you know I have success in the arts. Thank you very much gentlemen. This has been a discussion of success in the art of writing appearing on today's program where the artist Nelson Algren author of such well-known novels as the man with the golden arm and walk on the wild wild side appearing as critic Jack Conrad book critic for The Chicago Sun Times and editor of The New Standard encyclopedia. The professor Dr. Irving Blom teacher of narrative writing University of Illinois the moderator's Studs Terkel radio and television commentator. The announcer and producer is Alfred Partridge success
in the arts is a series of 13 programs seeking to discover one. What is meant by success in any of the major art fields. And to how success is achieved in that art. Each program includes a panel composed of an artist a critic a teacher and a moderator. This has been a recorded program produced by the University of Illinois undergraduate division under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. This program is distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the end E.B. Radio Network.
Success in the arts
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University of Illinois
WILL Illinois Public Media
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program focuses on what it takes to be a successful writer. The panel includes Nelson Algren, novelist; Jack Conroy, book critic and editor of New Standard Encyclopedia; and Dr. Irving Blum of the University of Illinois at Chicago
Series Description
This series presents panel discussions that focus on various aspects of the arts, including the skills needed to excel. The series is moderated by Studs Terkel and produced by Alfred E. Partridge.
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Moderator: Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008
Panelist: Conroy, Jack
Panelist: Blum, Irving
Panelist: Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981
Producing Organization: University of Illinois
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
Speaker: Partridge, Alfred E.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-19-13 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:00
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Chicago: “Success in the arts; Writing,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 19, 2024,
MLA: “Success in the arts; Writing.” 1957-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 19, 2024. <>.
APA: Success in the arts; Writing. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from