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Isherwood on Writing

2007
Author:

Christopher Isherwood
James J. Berg, editor
Foreword by Claude Summers

Isherwood on Writing

A publishing event—Isherwood’s lectures on writing and writers, available for the first time.

In the 1960s, Christopher Isherwood gave a series of lectures at California universities. During this time Isherwood, who would liberate the memoir and become the founding father of modern gay writing, spoke openly for the first time about his craft—on writing for film, theater, and novels—and on spirituality. Isherwood on Writing brings these public addresses together to reveal a distinctly—and surprisingly—American Isherwood.

Christopher Isherwood’s two cycles of lectures about literature will be of interest to writers everywhere. He tells us how to write with realistic detail and moral engagement—and an almost godlike compassion. He encourages us to find our individual voice and to consult nothing but our own conscience. At every point he illustrates his points with examples from his own works as well as those by Melville, D. H. Lawrence, Flaubert, W. H. Auden and excerpts from the holy books of Hinduism. He is witty, self-effacing, worldly—but always extremely wise and nurturing.

Edmund White, author of A Boy’s Own Story

In the 1960s, Christopher Isherwood gave an unprecedented series of lectures at California universities on the theme “A Writer and His World.” During this time Isherwood, who would liberate the memoir and become the founding father of modern gay writing, spoke openly for the first time about his craft—on writing for film, theater, and novels—and on spirituality. Isherwood on Writing brings these public addresses together to reveal a distinctly—and surprisingly—American Isherwood.

Given at a critical time in Isherwood’s career, these lectures mark the era when he turned from fiction to memoir. In free-flowing, wide-ranging discussions, he reflects on such topics as why writers write, what makes a novel great, and what influenced his own work. Isherwood talks about his working relationship with W. H. Auden; his literary friendships with E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Stephen Spender, Aldous Huxley, and Somerset Maugham; and his work in the film industry in London and Hollywood. He also explores uncharted territory in candid comments on his own work, something not contained in his diaries.

Isherwood on Writing uncovers an important and often-misunderstood time in Isherwood’s life in America. The lectures present, in James J. Berg’s words, “an example of a man, comfortable in his own sexuality and self, trying to talk about himself and his own life in a society that is not yet ready to hear the whole story.”

Isherwood on Writing

A major figure in twentieth-century fiction and the gay rights movement, Christopher Isherwood (1904–1986) is the author of many books, including A Single Man and Down There on a Visit, available from Minnesota.



James J. Berg is dean of social sciences and arts at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California. He is editor, with Chris Freeman, of The Isherwood Century: Essays on the Life and Work of Christopher Isherwood (winner of the Lambda Award) and Conversations with Christopher Isherwood.

Claude Summers is William E. Stirton Professor Emeritus in the Humanities and professor emeritus of English at the University of Michigan, Dearborn. He has published widely on seventeenth- and twentieth-century English literature and is general editor of www.glbtq.com, an encyclopedia of bisexual, transgender, and queer culture.

Isherwood on Writing

Christopher Isherwood’s two cycles of lectures about literature will be of interest to writers everywhere. He tells us how to write with realistic detail and moral engagement—and an almost godlike compassion. He encourages us to find our individual voice and to consult nothing but our own conscience. At every point he illustrates his points with examples from his own works as well as those by Melville, D. H. Lawrence, Flaubert, W. H. Auden and excerpts from the holy books of Hinduism. He is witty, self-effacing, worldly—but always extremely wise and nurturing.

Edmund White, author of A Boy’s Own Story

The book presents an interesting dichotomy of a man comfortable in his gay skin and able to discuss it, while the populace he divulges it to don’t grasp his intent.

Gay & Lesbian Times

As a diarist, Isherwood was funny, wry, astute—alternately compassionate and warm and hot and agitated, but never less than entertaining. Filled with poignant humor, gentle kindness, and, above all, nurturing love.

Choice

Highly recommended for both academic and community library biography, literary studies, and gay studies reference collections.

The Midwest Book Review

These lectures from the ‘60s hold fresh insights into the author’s life.

The Advocate

Isherwood on Writing brings home how profoundly a spiritual exercise writing was to Isherwood, and how joyful a one.

The Gay & Lesbian Review Worlwide

Isherwood on Writing

UMP blog: "Flourish—but not forever." On the late Gore Vidal's longtime kinship with Christopher Isherwood

In 1947, Gore Vidal sent a copy of his soon-to-be-published novel, The City and the Pillar, to a number of established writers. Christopher Isherwood was one of them.

Vidal, then 22, and his publishers expected negative press due to the book’s frank depiction of homosexuality. Isherwood, then 43, sent an appreciative letter to Vidal, but objected to the novel’s violent ending, in which the protagonist kills his high school obsession. For Isherwood, the book’s climax reinforced the public’s notion that gay men could not be happy and could not love one another. The American edition of
The City and the Pillar was already published, however, and Vidal did not act on Isherwood’s advice. Years later, Vidal would revise the ending.

Read the full article.