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My Mentor: A Young Writer's Friendship with William Maxwell Paperback – Bargain Price, October 14, 2003

4.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The literary gods must have smiled on future New Yorker writer Wilkinson (Violent Act), for he lived the dream of aspiring writers everywhere: to have for decades the ear (and eye) of a giant, the late William Maxwell, acclaimed novelist and legendary New Yorker editor. Wilkinson became a part of the aging Maxwell's life at the tender age of 24, introduced by his father, who had befriended his longtime neighbor. Not only did Wilkinson learn the craft, but embedded in Maxwell's simple, irrefutable lessons were important life philosophies, and Wilkinson came to see Maxwell in profound and paternal terms, until his death in the summer of 2000, at 91. This is a brief but heartfelt book, the prose unadorned, the structure loose yet only occasionally meandering. While Maxwell's writing periodically overshadows his mentee's, Wilkinson delivers several poignant, even Maxwellesque, moments, as when noting his mentor's physical deterioration: "his wrist hardly filled his shirt cuff any longer." Aside from Maxwell's early life and writings, Wilkinson provides glimpses into a bygone era at the New Yorker, the significant personalities, the office idiosyncrasies and Maxwell's ascendancy. The book's drawbacks: the unhappy relations between Wilkinson and his father remain vague, undercutting the significance of his tutelage, and Maxwell, at times, comes off as two-dimensional in his near-saintliness. The volume's main strength is Wilkinson's tender rendering of the lion-spirited Maxwell's almost sublime acceptance of his coming death, and the sadness and sense of unmooring felt by those around him. But for Wilkinson, Maxwell's presence was a once-in-a-lifetime gift.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In elegant and straightforward prose, Wilkinson (Midnights) assembles a portrait of William Maxwell, a writer and one of the last century's greatest editors of short fiction, best known for his work at The New Yorker. Maxwell was Wilkinson's writing mentor from the time he decided to become a writer until the end of Maxwell's life. Tracing the 25-year relationship between the emerging writer and the well-established literary master, Wilkinson reflects on the nature of his teacher's private, social, and public life. Using an intimate tone, he balances the perceived "flinty" nature and privacy of the enterprising individual against the social and professional decorum of a 20th-century literary/publishing figure's life. In a book that is part biography, part memoir, and part essay, Wilkinson sheds much light on the human capacity for sympathy, a mature relationship to self-interest, and the enterprise of writing. Highly recommended. Scott Hightower, Fordham Univ., New York
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (October 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618382690
  • ASIN: B006OI2STS
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,482,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I gave this rather slight book four stars partly because I was so ecstatic to find it. As a tremendous fan of William Maxwell, it was a treat to be able to learn a little more about him. Wilkinson is a graceful writer, and talented in his own right, but I found myself skipping the parts about his life in my eagerness to get to more about Maxwell. Wilkinson mentions in passing that this book should not serve as a biography of Maxwell, and it's not one. However, I do hope such a biography is forthcoming. I also hope that this book might spark renewed interest in Maxwell's work, which in my opinion is overlooked and under-appreciated.
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By A Customer on May 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"When I was twenty-four I decided that I would try to become a writer," [p7] writes Alec Wilkinson in the opening pages of My Mentor: A Young Man's Friendship with William Maxwell. Young Wilkinson was then introduced to one of the legends of 20th Century American literature, William Maxwell, who would become like a second father to him.
Maxwell (1908-2000) was both a brilliant novelist (his 1937 novel They Came Like Swallows is considered a modern American masterpiece) and a legendary fiction editor. At The New Yorker magazine, Maxwell helped shape a generation of writers by editing such luminaries as J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, John Updike, and Vladimir Nabokov. When Salinger finished the manuscript of The Catcher in the Rye, the first person he showed it to was William Maxwell. [p93] Wilkinson learned Maxwell's lessons well: he would himself become an award-winning novelist and, for the last twenty years, has worked as a writer for The New Yorker.
My Mentor is an engaging literary memoir in three parts about three men: Alec Wilkinson, Wilkinson's father, and Maxwell. Part One is mainly about Maxwell's early life and development as a writer. Throughout, Alec Wilkinson's adoration for his mentor is unabashed. He is to be commended for using Maxwell's own autobiographical writing to tell the story of how his mentor became both a man and a writer. By using Maxwell's own writing, Wilkinson gives us a clear sense of just how accomplished a writer Maxwell truly was.
Maxwell was born in Lincoln, Illinois; his young life changed forever when he was ten years old and his mother died. This traumatic childhood event would shape much of Maxwell's later writing.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been a fan of William Maxwell's beautifully crafted fiction for many years, and after reading Wilkinson's eloquent tribute to a father-figure who helped him become a writer I definitely want to search out the Maxwell books I haven't yet read. Wilkinson quotes liberally from Maxwell's novels, stories, essays and private papers, with the permission of Maxwell's daughters. Wilkinson himself is no slouch as a writer. Indeed, the early chapters of the book often had me chuckling, as Alec describes one of his first jobs as a summer cop in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Things turn largely serious, however, as he meditates on the reasons he was drawn to Maxwell as a young boy. The primary reason was a distant, difficult relationship with his own father, who was himself a close friend of Maxwell's. What this affectionate tribute leaves you with, more than anything else, is a sense of what a kind and decent man William Maxwell was, a man who always had time for a much younger man trying to find his voice as a writer. This mentor-student relationship was to flower into a genuine friendship over the years, despite the generational age difference. Wilkinson's descriptions of the final days of both Bill and Emmy Maxwell are extremely moving, but Maxwell even softens this transition for his protege, telling him "I don't think we'll stop talking just because I'm dead." This is a comment I can understand, because as anyone who has ever lost a dear friend or relative will tell you, the conversations do go on, at least inside your head. And often these "internal conversations" are more satisfying and direct than any you ever had with that person when he or she was still alive. I guess my only complaint with this book was that I wished there were more. But I guess I'll find more by reading those other books - by both Maxwell and Wilkinson. - Tim Bazzett, author of SOLDIER BOY: AT PLAY IN THE ASA
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