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Friday, January 23, 2009

John O'Hara on John O'Hara

Writer, alcoholic, driver of a Rolls Royce, described as a "social commentator with a semi-snobbish point of view" avid reader of Who's Who, John O'Hara is presented in "An Artist in His Own Fault: John O'Hara on Writer's and Writing."

Here are words by and interviews with the American writer who believed he could publish anything and who generally considered himself one of America's greatest writers. He may have put Faulkner above of him, calling him America's only literary genius, but it's hard to tell if he really put the man ahead or was locking elbows.

In retrospect O'Hara seemed to believe in writing, not particularly in rewriting (as least as he said in interviews). We know he rewrote Appointment to Samarra. For more of his thoughts, check out this collection. It's not great and it feels outdated. Nonetheless, O'Hara is a man of tidbits and casual conversation. He read only old works like Doyle or Hemingway, he sold RTS having written only 25K words for $500 and a monthly stipend. He never missed a deadline. One gets the feeling he felt a rivalry with Fitzgerand and Ring Lardner. Here is one of his more process based points where he describes three aids in writing From the Terrace.

"I had an overall chart, placing the major characters, and those close to them, in time -- what they were doing when. Then there was a journal I kept called 'So Far,' in which I noted down the events I'd covered, and there was a notebook my wife kept with pages for each character and a record of his appearances where, and in what connection."

Most critics now see RTS and BUtterfield8 [sic] as his great books with all others dim by comparison.

Another interview: answers to questions from the Daily Princetonian, 1959:

Q. "Whom do you think is our greatest living writer?
A. "Mr. O'Hara: That word should be who, not whom. Nominative case."