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Uncovered Letters Reveal A New Side Of William Styron

William Styron was one of the flamboyant literary figures of the 20th Century. He was a Southerner whose novel Lie Down in Darkness received immense acclaim when he was just 26 years old. He would go on to write the Confessions of Nat Turner, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1968.

But for the last 27 years of his life, Styron did not write a novel. He battled depression, and wrote a seminal work about it, Darkness Visible, in 1990.

Styron's literary voice, and life, were large. He and his wife, Rose, knew everyone, it seemed. They were hosts to presidents, poets and performers.

Now, six years after Styron's death at age 81, Rose Styron and editor R. Blakeslee Gilpin, have compiled more than 1,000 of his letters in the Selected Letters of William Styron.

Rose Styron spoke with Jacki Lyden, host of weekends All Things Considered, about the collection.

Interview Highlights

On why Rose Styron collected the letters

"So few people write letters anymore, myself included, and there was such an incredible trove of letters to Bill that I found squashed in drawers in his study when I was putting the house in Connecticut we lived in for 50 years on the market. I thought there must be troves of letters from him to these same friends, and other friends, and I wanted to save them."

On William Styron's "secret life"

"Bill and I had both a private and public life, and then Bill had a sub life that I found in his letters. He secretly felt a great many things that he did not say aloud, and he wrote them to special friends, and he allowed his sense of humor a lot of free play, his brilliant words took a lot of interesting turns that they may not have in our daily life. ... Mainly I had no idea of how much he had observed and recorded of our life together, it was a revelation and really almost a piece of literature in itself. ... I had not a clue he had written thousands of letters. I thought he was upstairs working on his fiction all the time."

Rose Styron is a poet, journalist and human rights activist. <em>By Vineyard Light</em> is one of her poetry books.
/ as.nyu.edu
Rose Styron is a poet, journalist and human rights activist. By Vineyard Light is one of her poetry books.

On what the letters revealed to Rose

"I think I see it as a reaffirmation of the wonderful marriage I remember. Wonderful marriages, of course, have ups and downs if they last for a half century. The love, and understanding, and conviction that I was married to a good, tender, caring man who might fly off the handle frequently, at me and everybody else, was restored in the best way possible. ... He had such an incredible memory, and he recorded everything — my memory is terrible, and I recorded nothing — that I was given a whole new picture of our lives together that I really, really cherish."

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