William Styron casts a long shadow over the 20th century American literary landscape. His 1951 debut novel, Lie Down in Darkness, garnered immense acclaim when he was just 26 years old. He was instrumental in the founding of the celebrated literary journal The Paris Review. Among other works, he'd go on to write the Confessions of Nat Turner, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1968, and Sophie's Choice.
For much of his life, he also battled through his days under a shadow: clinical depression. It was a struggle he wrote vividly—and candidly—about in his 1990 memoir, Darkness Visible. But as anyone who has lived with the disease knows, a life lived with depression does not mean that life is not thoroughly lived.
And so it was for William and his wife Rose, who would travel the world and whose friends and confidants included presidents, poets, and literary legends—everyone from the Kennedys to James Baldwin, Truman Capote to Norman Mailer.
Now, six years after Styron's death at age 81, his wife Rose and historian R. Blakeslee Gilpin, are offering us a new look at Styron's life—in Styron's own words. Word's he penned to those very friends and confidants. They’ve compiled more than 1,000 of the authors letters in the new book, Selected Letters of William Styron.
Rose Styron joined us on BPR ahead of an appearance Wednesday evening at Harvard Book Store to discuss the perils and rewards of the project.
- Rose Styron, poet, activist and wife of author William Styron. Editor of Selected Letters of William Styron