Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wisdom, Writers, and Real Life

In the American Masters film on Alice Walker recently shown on PBS, I learned that Walker's daughter doesn't speak to her and that Alice has never seen her grandson.  Apparently, Walker's only child felt ignored when she was growing up and is not about to forgive a mother who, at least to her mind, put her art ahead of her.

Last month, when I told a member of my writers' group that I was going to be in a workshop led by Andre Dubus, she said, "Oh, I read a story by him in college that's always stayed with me. It was called, 'Adultery.'"

Since this woman is nearly my age, I knew the author of this story had to be not Andre Dubus III, with whom I would be spending eight days, but Andre Dubus II, his father.  And since I was in the middle of reading Andre III's memoir, TOWNIE, I had to stop and ponder when I came upon "adultery" as one of the sources of the divorce that so devastated young Andre.  I haven't read the story, "Adultery," but the subject was certainly, at some point in time, much on the senior Dubus' mind.

These very different writers in very different family situations raise the question of the intersection of real life and art.  I don't know about others, but when I read a writer I like, I usually imagine the kind of person that writer is based on what he or she has written.  But then I come across something like an estranged child, or one who committed suicide (two in Eugene O'Neill's case), or the alcoholism so prevalent among writers of a certain generation, and I have to reconsider my assumption.  Andre III said about his own father that his writing was bigger than he was.  Maybe that is true for all writers.  Where does the genius, the wisdom, come from, then?  And why is it that so many writers are unable to manifest in their own lives the wisdom they display in their books?