May 26, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 21
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Tuesday, Nov 24, 2020



The Writer's Life comes to life at Town Hall
The Writer's Life comes to life at Town Hall
Author Gay Talese appeared at Town Hall to promote his new book

by E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN A&E Writer

At Town Hall on May, co-sponsored by the University Bookstore, Gay Talese looked dapper, just like on the cover of his new nonfiction book, "The Writer's Life", in an impeccably tailored suit, a hallmark of his, reflecting the values of his father, an immigrant southern Italian tailor committed to creating the best, most flawless high-end custom suits. While his father designed beautiful dresses and suits, his mother, an Italian from Brooklyn, specialized in running the front of their fashionable clothing boutique, the "Talese Township", on the island of Ocean City, New Jersey, a summer resort destination just south of Atlantic City. Talese was born there in 1932. The family lived upstairs from the shop.

It was from the experiences he had growing up listening to his mother chatting with her wealthy customers, (who had lots of free time to sit and have iced tea), that he learned to be a good listener and interviewer, like his mother. He attributes these skills to be the key to his life as a successful journalist and non-fiction storyteller. Every night, after the store closed, his parents were tired and didn't feel like cooking. They would go out to different restaurants and Talese would overhear a variety of conversations which stimulated his imagination about people's life experiences. He loved this ritual and to this day, he dines out in restaurants all the time, reveling in fascinating, overheard conversations.

Here is a quote from Talese about his mom and her clients and he recalls the shop as: "a kind of talk-show that flowed around the engaging manner and well timed questions of my mother; and as a boy not much taller than the counters behind which I used to pause and eavesdrop, I learned (from my mother) & to listen with patience and care, and never to interrupt even when people were having great difficulty in explaining themselves, for during such halting and imprecise moments&people are very revealing&what they hesitate to talk about can tell much about them. Their pauses, their evasions, their sudden shifts in subject matter are likely indicators of what embarrasses them, or irritates them, or what they regard as too private or imprudent to be disclosed to another person at that particular time. However, I have also over-heard many people discussing candidly with my mother what they had earlier avoided&a reaction that I think had less to do with her inquiring nature or sensitively posed questions than with their gradual acceptance of her as a trustworthy individual in whom they could confide." Talese has used this wisdom, along with a gift for writing, to thoughtfully and thoroughly portray his subject matter in numerous books over the years including; "Honor Thy Father", in which he gained the trust of the Mafia enough to break its "code of silence". He spent the first nine years, of his journalism career at the New York Times, covering sports and then was moved over to politics. He has written essays on a wide, eclectic variety of subjects including "Fame and Obscurity", a collection of his articles, primarily from Esquire Magazine and author Tom Wolfe credited Talese with the creation of an inventive form of nonfiction writing called "The New Journalism".

Talese prides himself on doing his own research for his writing and says that he doesn't go to the Internet to obtain information on his subjects. He can spend great amounts of time crafting his stories, sometimes years, following his subjects. His new book "The Writer's Life", contains some of these stories that he has been working on for a while, including a story about a female Olympic athlete from China and what happens in the course of here life back home after an Olympic defeat, where Talese went and spent time with her. There is also a story in the book about Lorena Bobbitt, who, some years ago, was notorious for cutting off her husband's penis in a rage of frustration.

Gay Talese is a wonderful speaker to listen to and very articulately, clearly and charmingly gave his Seattle audience wonderful insights into his background and his inspirations.

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