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William Maxwell – marvelous editor and writer

Wm Maxwell

Today I’d like to recommend a wonderful writer, William Keepers Maxwell, (1908-2000) whose work I have been immersed in. I knew he was a distinguished editor; he was at The New Yorker from 1936 to 1975, and was the editor of such luminaries as Salinger, John Cheever, Frank O’Connor and Eudora Welty. He was a quiet man who did little to promote himself or his own work. He cared about editing in an old-fashioned way and practiced it with dedication. I recently read a big volume of his early novels and stories (published by Library of America), which is excellent. At his best, I think he is as good as Cheever, which is high praise. One of Maxwell’s better known stories that was published in the New Yorker is “The Thistles in Sweden,” a masterpiece. He is very good at elegiac descriptions of the past and evocations of worlds that don’t exist any more, such as France shortly after World War II. His humor is dry and his observations of people are fascinating. Maxwell’s literary reputation has apparently grown since his death. I highly recommend his stories and novels to you. Benjamin Cheever said of Maxwell’s carefully crafted prose, “…it can be read like poetry.”

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