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Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!


The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

Honoring Elizabeth Hardwick

 

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Elizabeth Hardwick is a Kentucky writer I’ve met only on paper. The loss is mine.

Recently I had the honor of reading an excerpt from her work on the occasion of her induction into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

Hardwick was one Kentucky writer who got away. After finishing the BA and MA at the University of Kentucky, she enrolled in a PhD program at Columbia. For the rest of her long life, her contact with hometown Lexington was minimal. In the sixties she was part of a team who founded the New York Review of Books, as a response to a perceived softness in the reviewing style of the New York Times. The timing was brilliant as the Times was on strike for some months, and advertisers had marketing dollars to risk on a new publication.

Hardwick wrote reviews, literary biographies, essays, and novels. I think of her as a woman of letters, a vocation that sounds more old-fashioned and isolated than it ought to. Not only did Hardwick advocate for more demanding book reviews and better writing, but she also visited places like Selma in the mid-sixties and wrote about the experience for NYRB.

One of my favorite comments about her comes from the obituary that Mark Krupnik wrote for The Guardian:

“[Hardwick] was born into a large family in Kentucky, a southern border state that tends to produce literary sensibilities very different from those that flourish in the deep south. Her father was a left-leaning blue-collar worker who ran a plumbing and heating business. No doubt it contributed to her alienation from the mint julep school of southern writing that she was a city girl, from Lexington.”

I considered a number of her essays (you can read many online) before choosing a passage from her third novel Sleepless Nights, published in 1979.  Sleepless Nights is described as hybrid in form: somewhere between novel and memoir. It’s an artfully arranged collection of letters, portraits, musings, remembrances of the past and connections to the present: in other words, concerns that keep us tossing and turning at night. The book often feels like a glimpse into the writer’s notebook of a meticulous observer possessed of a singular gift for the apt metaphor.

While I didn’t choose the following passage from Sleepless Nights, it serves to introduce you to Hardwick: her mastery of the list, the complexity of her thinking, the diversity of the influences that worked upon her, the perceived limitations of her time:

“Tickets, migrations, worries, property, debts, changes of name and changes back once more: these came about from reading many books. So, from Kentucky to New York, to Boston, to Maine, to Europe, carried along on a river of paragraphs and chapters, of blank verse, of little books translated from the Polish, large books from the Russian—all consumed in a sedentary sleeplessness. Is that sufficient—never mind that it is the truth. It certainly hasn’t the drama of: I saw the old, white-bearded frigate master on the dock and signed up for the journey. But after all, ‘I’ am a woman” (Sleepless Nights, p. 8).

Hardwick’s life and career had their own brand of drama, of course, every bit as fraught as any quest by sea.

Photo source: Getty

 

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