Saturday, December 9, 2006

On not giving up.

[[From Writer’s Almanac yesterday, on James Thurber]]

He started submitting humor pieces to The New Yorker in 1926, when the magazine was barely a year old. He said, “My pieces came back so fast I began to believe The New Yorker must have a rejection machine.”

He was living in a basement apartment with his first wife. She thought that after 20 of his humor pieces had failed to find a publisher, he should probably give up. But one night, he set his alarm clock to go off 45 minutes after he'd fallen asleep, and he woke up in a sleepy daze and wrote the first thing that came to mind: a story about a man going round and round in a revolving door, attracting crowds and the police, and eventually setting the world record for revolving door laps. It was the first piece of his published in The New Yorker.

He published more than 30 books of short pieces. Most of his work is collected in Writings & Drawings (1996). He became famous for writing stories and drawing cartoons about a certain type of exasperated man. E. B. White said, “These ‘Thurber men’...are frustrated, fugitive beings; at times they seem vaguely striving to get out of something without being seen (a room, a situation, a state of mind), at other times they are merely perplexed and too humble, or weak, to move.”

[[Even late in life, when he became too blind to draw effectively—Thurber would make tremendous drawings that he could hazily see, in white on a black background, which would then be shrunk down and reversed to black drawings for publication. You go, Thurber!]]