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First Words: Earliest Writing from Favorite Contemporary Authors Paperback – April 21, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Both of these anthologies introduce the early writings of a number of successful writers. Breaking into Print offers short stories--many the first the authors ever published--of 17 authors well known in literary circles (such as Tim O'Brien, Mona Simpson, and Carolyn Ferrell). The stories were originally published in the prestigious Ploughshares literary magazine. Alongside these wonderful stories, editor Henry (cofounder of Ploughshares) has included what he calls "Shoptalk," small excerpts from various sources on writing issues germane to the story at hand. Perhaps even more intriguing are the occasional introductions and comments from the authors themselves on the circumstances surrounding the creation of a particular story, as well as entertaining anecdotes from Henry on how a particular story was "discovered" at Ploughshares. First Words includes authors who are more recognizable to the general public: Rita Dove, Stephen King, John Updike, and 19 others. But the most striking difference between the anthologies is the age of the authors at the time: Here we have Norman Mailer at ten, Ursula Le Guin at four, Michael Crichton at 14. This material, along with photocopies of original handwritten pages and early manuscript revisions, is quite revealing from the standpoint of literary research. Be forewarned, however: many of the selections are high school newspaper articles or childhood fantasy stories and are not the type of reading with which most people would want to curl up. Both books are recommended for all types of libraries.
-Angela Weiler, SUNY at Morrisville Lib.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Forty-two writers were brave and generous enough to send Mandelbaum their childhood manuscripts. Photographs of the authors thenand now as well as facsimile reproductions of their submissions enliven this unique collection, as do Mandelbaum's pithy and engaging profiles of each author. Many writers share memories about their first forays into literature. Jill McCorkle fondly recalls her cozy little playhouse where she wrote stories that "had" to "get a laugh or a tear," while others recall how reading and writing lifted them out of the confines of childhood or profound shyness. Every submission is of interest, but some are simply hilarious, such as Margaret Atwood's satirical essay on why women should smoke cigars, and Paul Bowles' droll little dramas about love triangles, written at age 9. Precocity and sophistication beyond experience prevail. John Updike's startlingly accomplished "Untitled Mystery" was composed at age 14, while the obsessions of Michael Crichton and Stephen King were already apparent in their earliest compositions. Other contributors include Madison Smartt Bell, Gail Godwin, W. P. Kinsella, Bobbie Ann Mason, Norman Mailer, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Gore Vidal. Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; Revised edition (April 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565122720
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565122727
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #790,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By guppie on March 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
FIRST WORDS was an expected find which has become a favorite gift. It allows the reader to turn back time and see the beginnings of a future writer. For aspiring writers it is both an education and an inspiration to see early stages of becoming a writer. For teachers it is an invaluable tool. 1-It demonstrates to the compulsively driven perfectionists in our classrooms that even those now famous had their own grammar, spelling, and revision demons to conquer. 2-It provides a cautionary tale, that none of us wants to be the teacher whose careless, quick negatives took years for a young writer to overcome. 3-It reminds us that lurking in classrooms all around this country are young children and young adults who will become the leading authors of tomorrow. It challenges us to do our best to help them along that path. I have giiven this to 12 other people so far, and many of them have gone on to buy it as gifts for colleagues, students, and friends. The idea is genius in its simplicity. The contributors and editors have made its reality a delight!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S. K. Yamada on December 12, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Cover-to-cover excellence. If you have favorites among the 22 contemporary authors represented in this anthology, you will enjoy reading samples of their childhood writings. Young Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Rita Dove, Maxine Hong Kingston and the other authors demonstrate precocity, maturity, and a firm grasp of story structure and plot development.
Marginal notes can be intrusive, but I found myself looking forward to editor Paul Mandelbaum's illuminating comments about each writer's life and work. The information deepened my understanding of the writer's body of work. This is a wonderful book to own and a great gift idea.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Deacon Thom on September 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
We all need to walk before we can run -- and in "First Words," some of the world's greatest literary sprinters take their first fumbling steps. They stretch their muscles, get their balance, totter and then take off -- and what strides they finally make!
Rounding up these first words, Editor Paul Mandelbaum has performed an invaluable and remarkable feat of literary excavation. Who knew this stuff even existed? For anyone who loves to read, or loves to write, "First Words" is revealing, inspiring and - believe it or not - just plain fun.
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