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Letters & Essays: 2010s

Letters & Essays of the Day

Revising One Sentence

By Lydia Davis

This morning I walk around the house feeling happy and I’m struck by what I’m doing. Actually, I’m struck by only one gesture I happen to make, but that one gesture inspires me to write a sentence describing what I have just been doing. This is usually an effective approach in writing because one striking element can be the culmination of a series of more ordinary elements that would not stand on their own.

Helen Frankenthaler and James Schuyler: A Correspondence

By Douglas Dreishpoon, Helen Frankenthaler & James Schuyler

In bohemian postwar Manhattan, poets (Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch) naturally gravitated to painters (Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Larry Rivers) whose work they appreciated on its own terms. Certain poets were lauded for their perceptive, unbiased eye; some painters instinctively sensed a resonant poem. Painter Helen Frankenthaler and poet James Schuyler had such a mutual appreciation. Their run-in during the 1954 Venice Biennale was memorable enough to open Schuyler’s poem “Torcello” (they must have met previously to have recognized each other, though it is unclear when). In any case, they kept circling: Schuyler reviewed Frankenthaler’s shows at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1957 and at the André Emmerich Gallery in 1960.

If You Are Permanently Lost

By Molly McCully Brown

I never have any idea where I am. I lived my whole childhood in the purple foothills of the same five-square-mile town and I still couldn’t tell you whether you turn left or right on the single thruway to get to the grade school or the grocery store, or how to find the houses of any of my childhood friends. I can’t tell you how to find the conspicuously modern angles of the apartment building in the small Mississippi town where I lived for three years in graduate school, or even easily direct you from my old house in Austin to the bright little bar where I wrote much of my first book. I never know how far I am from the airport or the highway. I can’t read a map effectively, and even though it’s less than half a mile from my current apartment in London, I couldn’t get to the Thames without the artificial voice on my cell phone—set to an Australian accent so its omnipresence is less tiresome—­calling out turn left every 250 feet. Half the time, to remember which way is left, I have to imagine for an instant that I am picking up a pen.

On New York City

By James Agee & Michael Lofaro

In 1939, with New York City playing host to the World’s Fair, Fortune magazine dedicated its July issue to commemorating the event. The issue would be divided into four sections: The People, They Govern Themselves, They Earn a Living, and What Is This City? The project required seventeen in-house writers and eight editors to capture the breadth of the city and its people, from Harlem to Wall Street, and the magazine turned also to a former staffer they regarded as their finest writer, James Agee. He was tasked with composing “tone poems” to introduce each section. In the end, Fortune editor Russell Davenport chose not to run the prose poems, or the foreword that Agee wrote to open the magazine.