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Stony Brook Southampton’s Acclaimed “Writers Speak” Series Opens On September 22 With Renowned Author James Salter

Salter jamesweb

Stony Brook Southampton’s Acclaimed “Writers Speak” Series Opens On September 22 With Renowned Author James Salter

Series free to the public, includes 10 additional readings, author signings in Southampton and Manhattan from Sept. 27 through Dec. 8

SOUTHAMPTON & MANHATTAN, NY, September 13, 2010 – Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA Program in Writing and Literature will inaugurate its Fall 2010 ” 
Writers Speak
 ” series in the new Chancellors Hall Radio Lounge on Wednesday, September 22, at 7 pm with renowned author James Salter, who will be reading from the just-released Memorable Days: The Selected Letters of James Salter and Robert Phelps (Counterpoint). 


Salter jamesweb
James Salter

Salter will then kick off the Stony Brook Manhattan reading series on Monday, September 27 at 401 Park Avenue South (28 Street). Memorable Days is the apotheosis of an intense literary friendship. Phelps, a Colette and Cocteau expert, began writing to Salter in 1969. The book of letters illustrates the hardships and challenges within their personal and professional lives, as well as their passions and dreams. Through these letters it’s apparent that both men lived for the thrill of art and writing. 


A West Point graduate who’d flown 100 Air Force missions, James Salter wrote his haunting first novel, The Hunters, about the slow self-destruction of a fighter pilot. His novel, The Arm of Flesh, also drew on his flying experiences. Salter’s next novel was the classic A Sport and a Pastime. Susan Sontag once wrote: “Salter particularly rewards those for whom reading is an intense pleasure.” Salter went on to make documentaries, write screenplays—including the script for Downhill Racer starring Robert Redford and Gene Hackman—as well as the novels Light Years and Solo Faces; the memoirs Burning the Days and Gods of Tin; the story collections Dusk and Other Stories, which won the 1989 PEN/ Faulkner Award, as well as Last Night. But it was shortly after the publication of A Sport and a Pastime that Salter first heard from Robert Phelps. 


“At the very end of 1969, A Sport and a Pastime having been published with sales of a few thousand copies, I received a fan letter, long, intelligent, and admiring…,” Salter wrote. The letter was from Phelps, whose first and only novel, Heroes and Orators, had been published in 1958. When Phelps wrote Salter, it had been ten years since he’d completed Heroes and Orators, and he was struggling to stop writing for hire, desiring to return to writing novels. Salter’s story of a love affair between a young American and a French girl in rural France was a novel Phelps both loved and envied. 


This intelligent letter led to a dinner between Salter and Phelps at the Chelsea Hotel in 1970. It was, in some ways, the start of a literary, platonic love affair. For almost 20 years and 200 letters, they were friends and correspondents until Phelps’ death from Parkinson’s in 1989. 


A man whose charm has been much memorialized, Robert Phelps was widely known for his oft-read library of books, extensive knowledge, and his generous gifts for engaging others in friendship, conversation, and helping them with their lives. Phelps had been a fixture at Yaddo and MacDowell, and his novel, which has been called “a complex and troubling study of homosexuality,” is about his time spent there. Although married to painter Rosemarie Beck for over 40 years, Phelps thought of himself as a bi-sexual, yet hesitated to continue writing on bisexual and homosexual themes. Instead, he wrote Earthly Paradise: An Autobiography of Colette Drawn from her Lifetime Writings; Professional Secrets, a book of Jean Cocteau’s life; and most notably, The Literary Life: A Scrapbook Almanac of the Anglo-American Literary Scene in 1968. 


At the Associated Writing Programs’ panel on “New York in the 1950s” Phelps was named “the very embodiment of that era’s literary life.” Yet Phelps, especially in his later years, believed that because his chef d’oeuvre was about the writings of others, rather than his own work, he had failed to fulfill his promise. 


Longtime Colette scholar and Sag Harbor resident, Glynne Hiller, said of Robert Phelps: “He was a dear friend, and someone so generous, erudite, funny, admirable, and fun. We met almost weekly at the old Peacock, and other places, including the New School cafeteria. He would always carry our wobbling tray with coffee and desserts back to our table, even when his Parkinson’s was at its worst—he could never give up being courteous; he’d regale me with some wonderfully acute observations and stories.” 


Phelps’ gifts for the writing life, friendship, and conversation touched Salter as well, and the depth of feeling between the two men is palpable in their correspondence. “Salter’s wide experience of the world and people, his observations about places, conversations, and events, jotted on envelopes from hotels all over the world, enrich his voluminous letters and inform his fictions,” said Robert Emmett Ginna, Stony Brook Southampton Writers Conference faculty and former editor-in-chief of Little Brown, and publisher of Salter’s Solo Faces. A review in The Washington Post Book World once noted that “Salter inhabits the same rarefied heights as Flannery O’Connor, Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams, and John Cheever.” 


The Fall 2010 Stony Brook Southampton Writers Speak series, launched by James Salter in Southampton on September 22, and in Manhattan on September 27, will also include: 

September 29; 7 PM:     

Gahan Wilson


October 6; 7 PM:

Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize winning author (Southampton) 

October 11; 7 PM:     

Andrew Wingfield 

October 20; 7 PM:    

Best American Poetry series editor David Lehman and Pushcart Prize anthology editor Bill Henderson (Southampton) 

November 1; 7 PM:     

David Rakoff (Manhattan) 

November 10; 7 PM:

Ursula Hegi (Southampton) 

November 17; 7 PM:     

Matthea Harvey 
& Rob Casper (Southampton) 

December 6; 7 PM:  

Julie Sheehan and Ursula Hegi (Manhattan) 

December 8; 7 PM:  

A Southampton MFA reading (Southampton) 


For more information, refer to the 
Stony Brook Southampton MFA Writers Speak
 website, or call 631-632-5030. – See more at:

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