Now recognized as one of the giants of postwar American fiction, William Gaddis (1922–98) shunned the spotlight during his life, which makes this collection of his letters a revelation. Beginning in 1930 when Gaddis was at boardingschool and ending in September 1998, a few months before his death, these letters function as a kind of autobiography, and are all the more valuable because Gaddis was not an autobiographical writer. Here we see him forging his first novel The Recognitions (1955) while living in Mexico, fighting in a revolution in Costa Rica, and working in Spain, France, and North Africa. Over the next twenty years he struggles to find time to write the National Book Award-winning J R (1975) amid the complications of work and family; deals with divorce and disillusionment before reviving his career with Carpenter’s Gothic (1985); then teaches himself enough about the law to indite A Frolic of His Own (1994), which earned him another NBA. Returning to a topic he first wrote about in the 1940s, he finishes his last novel Agapē Agape as he lay dying.
The recipients of the letters include other writers such as Katherine Anne Porter, David Markson, William H. Gass, Stanley Elkin, Frederick Exley, Robert Coover, Robert Creeley, John Updike, Saul Bellow, and Don DeLillo, as well as friends, family, politicians, and critics. The collection is edited and annotated by Steven Moore, the leading authority on Gaddis, and concludes with an afterword by the novelist’s daughter, Sarah Gaddis.