Saturday, January 19, 2013
I was particularly interested in his story this week (New Yorker, January 21, 2103) on the writer "Elena Ferrante," an Italian who has never made herself, or her real name, known. She has, Wood tells us, made herself available to answer written questions. She has indicated that she both translates and teaches. But nobody knows what she looks like, she has appeared on no panel, she has been absent at awards dinners, there is no well-lit author pic, and perhaps she lives next door to you. If she does, she hasn't bored you with her tales of fame. She has, instead, borrowed your clothespins.
Her rationale was explained early in her career, in this note to her publisher, which Wood quotes like this in his piece:
I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won't.... I very much love those mysterious volumes, both ancient and modern, that have no definite author but have had and continue to have an intense life of their own. They seem to me a sort of nighttime miracle, like the gifts of the Befana, which I waited for as a child.... True miracles are the ones whose makers will never be known.... Besides, isn't it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the least expensive author of the publishing house. I'll spare you even my presence.I have sympathy for this woman who stands behind the Elena construct. For while my graciously lit author photo lives on the internet and on book jackets, while I speak at times, teach in the spring, joke around on Facebook, appear on some panels, physically grant the winners of prizes I judge their awards, and blog daily here, I am not there, most of the time, with my books. I don't tour. I am not a personality—not spontaneously clever, not actually interesting, not possessed of an air-brushed allure. I typically read from each of my books to a very small audience just once or a handful of times, and there are books that I have published that I have yet to actually read aloud to an audience of more than my son. What I write, in other words, does by and large need to stand on its own.
And sometimes it does. And sometimes it doesn't. So that much of what I am paying attention to, as I keep trekking forward in this journey, is this, specifically: How to leave pages behind that do not need me. How to make the work the most important thing of all.