All the latest news, ideas, and opinions from Denver's Independent Literary Center: lighthousewriters.org
Sorry! But we have the next best thing—both an audio recording (coming soon—we’ll put it up after we edit out my rambling opening remarks) and the following, Eli Gottlieb’s lovely introduction:
First of all, I want to say what an honor it is to share the stage with Tobias Wolff, who is—not to mince words—a hero of mine. That’s a heavy word, hero. It happens in this case to be true. I first met Toby in the flesh in Rome, where we shared a few happy evenings together, evenings inflected by his great good humor and that of his wife and daughter. But I’d met him years earlier, in the pages of This Boy’s Life. I still remember first reading that book, and I remember as well my reaction which was that of being hauled bodily through the air and back in time to a small town in the Cascade mountains where there lived a father so callous, cruel, and scheming that I became frantic as I read, wanting to arrest him, to take him out, to in some way or another stop him from brutalizing his sensitive stepson. Instead of calling social services, I read on, mesmerized by the power of the prose.
When I think of the work of Tobias Wolff, I think of a music of the most exacting moral tolerances. I think of someone who inserts language into the fault lines in contemporary life, and then torques that language so that the cracks open to let in light His sentences are as true and alive as anyone writing in English. On top of that, he’s gifted with a kind of artistic marksmanship which allows him to zero in, infallibly, on the telling emotional moment in which a person stands revealed. Once his characters are set in motion, he waits them out with a patience akin to love, standing by until they do not what’s right, but what’s entirely, heartbreakingly in keeping with their own destinies.
There’s a moment, in every single Tobias Wolff story or narrative, where the reader feels his own nerve about to fail; where he feels that the author is about to reveal some truth about human nature so deep, disturbing, and inevitable, that though he wants to look away, he cannot. It’s in that moment of readerly capture that he steps away from his contemporaries and claims his distinction as America’s greatest living short story writer. He shows us to ourselves as we are—and forgives us in advance for not measuring up to the size of our self-conceptions. For that, among many other reasons, he is indispensable. Tobias Wolff.
Damn straight, Eli!