My friend Frank sent me a copy of The Writers Desk several years ago. The cover photo shows Eudora Welty writing in her Jackson, Mississippi home. Her fingers are poised over the typewriter’s keyboard. Her eyes are downcast. She looks like somebody’s grandmother.
Jill Krementz took the photo in 1972. She shot 44 other writers for the book, which came out in 1996. Many of the photos date back to the early ’70s. John Updike did the foreword. A note in the back of the book says Krementz photographed 1,500 writers. Being the wife of Kurt Vonnegut certainly gave her easier access.
There are institutional metal desks. Wooden desks. Some are elegant, others simple, many more like tables than desks. William F. Buckley’s desk in 1974 was really a very large car.
Some writers pose. Many are captured busy at work. Ralph Ellison looks skeptically at the camera’s lens. Kurt Vonnegut is barefoot. A young Joan Didion, too.
Their writing instruments vary: Paper and pencil, typewriters, and vintage computers.
Russell Banks has a toy school bus on his desk and Georges Simenon’s has a line of pipes. There are pets like Willie Morris’ white cat Spit McGee, which has one brown eye and one blue. The fur on Joseph Heller’s dog has the same texture as the shag rug in his office.
The authors share their views about writing. Bernard Malamud says, “Eventually everyone learn his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.”
Katherine Anne Porter, circa 1972, says, “I always write my last lines, my last paragraphs, my last page first, and then I go back and work towards it.”
Stephen King, circa 1995, has his feet up, his desk chair cranked backwards. A dog, a corgi it appears, stares at the photographer from beneath his legs.
This is what he says, “I don’t take notes; I don’t outline; I don’t do anything like that. I just flail away at the goddamned thing … I’m a salami writer. I try to write good salami, but salami is salami. You can’t sell it as caviar.”
Jean Piaget lights a pipe while sitting in front of a stacks of paper in 1973. He says, “My wife is kind enough not to touch anything.”
|My Writer’s Desk
So what does mine look like? Hank built it. The top is black walnut. He was working on a house when the owner asked him to throw out shelves. He discovered their true worth after he bought them home. He built the desk Shaker style with a trestle bottom and one narrow drawer. For my birthday a few years ago he built me two desk boxes with shelves, dividers, and drawers. I use them to keep paper, supplies and trinkets. I first wrote on this desk when I was a reporter working from home. Now I use it for my fiction. It is my writer’s desk.