NAMEDROPPING by Richard Elman


Mostly Literary Memoirs
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An erratic, often overreaching collection of quickie biographical recollections of great, not so great, and utterly unknown litterateurs and artistes. Like most of the men and women profiled here, Elman (Tar Beach, 1991, etc.) labored in semiobscurity for much of his life. His 25-plus books (many now out of print) were enough to free him from freelancing and get him onto the college creative writing circuit but have not secured him anything approaching literary renown. As he recounts in one of the more amusing sketches, he’s often confused with the great literary biographer of Joyce and Wilde, Richard Ellmann. When the two men met at a party, Ellmann gleefully took him around, saying, “We—re Richard Elmans.” Some of the portraits here, especially those of longstanding acquaintances such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, Tillie Olsen, and Yvor Winters, are right on target. Elman’s impressions are sharp,, strongly drawn, and quite revealing. However, with most of the notable names featured here (Aldous Huxley, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg) he had only a passing acquaintance, an interview, a meeting at a conference or party; so though he occasionally musters a noteworthy insight, it’s built on tenuous foundations. In addition, the majority of the profiles here are of obscure people: fringe literary figures or tenure-track teachers of creative writing. Since he doesn—t have the literary gifts to redeem them from their obscurity, Elman would have done well to drop their names completely from this collection. Falling prey to the occupational hazard of memoirists, narcissism, he also tends to see others too much in terms of himself.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-7914-3879-1
Page count: 288pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998