THE DELICACY AND STRENGTH OF LACE by Leslie Marmon & James Wright Silko


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Sometimes moving correspondence between the late Pulitzer Prize poet Wright and Laguna Indian storyteller-poet-novelist Silko (who received a five-year MacArthur Fellowship). The exchange of letters lasted only 18 months, ending with Wright's early death at 52 (of tongue cancer). The writers met only twice, once in 1975 when Wright was speaking at a Michigan writers' conference, and again in 1980, when he lay dying in a Manhattan hospital. The letters begin formally enough, with mutual admiration, quite slowly become more revealing of each writer. Silko complains of being known for her Indian husbands and divorces, and laments losing a child custody case. Wright tells her about his rich trove of problems with his children, especially with a druggy son who phoned to tell him that he didn't want to be his son anymore; Wright could find no reason for his son's change of personality. However, it's a long time before the letters get quite this rich. They simmer at a fairly low level before the reader is finally gripped. The talk at first is mainly of writing, earnings, travel, family, and animals. Silko is especially delightful about animals, particularly her beloved but mean and dirty macho rooster and his two hens, who are eventually eaten by coyotes, then replaced by a timid road runner that grows ever more at home and takes to running about the house. She also has a fat diamondback rattler she allows to stay in her barn to keep down the rodent life. When Wright at last tells her that he has cancer (""It is very serious, but it is not hopeless"") and will come out of surgery with a diminished capacity to speak ("". . .this will create a problem, since I make a living by speaking""), he tells her because friends should share not only happy news but tragic news as well. Silko does not answer for a while, digesting this news. When she does, it is with a long and magnificent story about a man famous among the Laguna who could not die despite being hit by illness after major illness--a letter that surely tickled Wright in his last days. Her last letter to him arrived after his death. Wright's wife Annie replied to it simply: ""The best days are the first to go. The best of men has gone too."" This generally upbeat book would make a nice consolatory volume.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1986
Publisher: Graywolf