Poetry News

Boy Writers: Paul Auster & Edgar Allan Poe

By Harriet Staff


Paul Auster spoke recently at the Morgan Library in New York about his life in reading Edgar Allan Poe, framing this study with what he called "boy's literature." Poe, Borges, and Thomas Pynchon all apparently fit the bill. Anne Margaret Daniel writes more about it at The Huffington Post (hint: the term is less derogatory, more in opposition to being "grown-up"):

What does it take to be a "boy writer"? According to Auster, cleverness, a sense of joy, writing good sentences, feeling the adventure of writing. Auster defines his coinage: "By boy writer I mean this: someone who is so excited, takes such a sense of glee and delight in being clever, in puzzles, in games, in... and you can feel these boys cackling in their rooms when they write a good sentence, just enjoying the whole adventure of it. And the boy writers are the ones you read, and you understand why you love literature so much."

"Boy writers" are the creative sparks, the inventors, the ones who do what fiction definitionally is -- they make things up. Auster recognizes some grown-up writers in the discussion too, all men: "Tolstoy is a grown-up writer; Hawthorne is a grown-up writer. And we need those writers as well. But without these cackling boys to remind us of how great it is to be alive, how great it is to invent things and make things up, there is no literature."

Auster goes on with a more traditional discussion of Poe as a writer: "What makes [Poe's imagination] so complex is that yes, there is the gothic side of him, but then there is the arabesque, and that is all about order, and logic, and pattern." He talks about Poe's inventing the detective story, and marvels, rightly, "we're overwhelmed by crime stories, and he made it up." Gewirtz notes that it is "astonishing how much [Arthur Conan] Doyle took from him" in Sherlock Holmes's supercilious manner and more. Auster agrees, and amplifies. "No Sherlock Holmes without Poe."

From his The Brooklyn Follies, Auster selected a gorgeous section that links Poe and Henry David Thoreau -- who, along with Hawthorne, must surely be one of Auster's grown-up writers. Poe and Thoreau, "at opposite ends of American thought... A drunk from the South, reactionary in his politics, aristocratic in hie bearing, spectral in his imagination. And a teetotaler from the North, radical in his views, puritanical in his behavior, clear-sighted in his work." Yet the two men were contemporaries, with sad life similarities: short-lived; childless; and possibly, Auster conjectures, both virgins at death. . . .

Read more on these creative sparks at The Huffington Post.

Originally Published: January 29th, 2014