Calvin Trillon

More from this show

Author Calvin Trillon talks about life as a writer.

Ted Simons
>> Calvin Trillin is a well-known writer at "Time Magazine," The New Yorker and The Nation. He's also the author of several best sellers including his recent collection of comic verse about the bush administration. Recently Trillin visited A.S.U. to give a lecture on the writing game. I sat down with Calvin Trillin before he gave that lecture.

Ted Simons
>> Calvin Trillin, thank you so much for joining us on Horizon.

Calvin Trillin
>> Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons
>> Let's talk about why you are here. You are addressing A.S.U. about the life of a writer?



Calvin Trillin
>> Yeah. Sort of what it's like to make a living as a writer, which is not a great profit center in general I would say.

Ted Simons
>> Are we heading into, are we in already, a post-literate culture with television, with visual things superceding the written word?

Calvin Trillin
>> Well, I think it's less literate. Or at least a different sort of literate. I think obviously more people are getting news from television and now from the internet that you see get news from newspapers, for instance. On the other hand, a lot more of them are writing on the internet than used to. I mean, all these bloggers. And if this is what you do for a living, I keep wondering, why are they doing that if nobody pays them? I don't understand that. But it's sort of like I still do a verse every week for "The Nation." A couple people there, when somebody writes a letter saying, well, you're wrong about this, instead of just saying, oh, well, okay, I made a mistake, or saying, well, no, I'm right, you write paragraph after paragraph. And I keep thinking, they're not even getting paid for this what was the point of this? I don't understand.

Ted Simons
>> You talked about writing verse. And I know you have a book coming out here shortly regarding the election?

Calvin Trillin
>> Yeah. It's called "Deciding the Next Decider: The 2008 Presidential Campaign in Rhyme." And it's a very long narrative rhyming couplets poem interrupted by some other poems, some of which sound like songs, like there's one about John Edwards called "yes, I know he's the son of a miner but there's Hollywood in that hair." That sort of thing.

Ted Simons
>> I know you've written in the past as well. You have other things out regarding the bush administration in verse.

Calvin Trillin
>> Yeah.

Ted Simons
>> What got you doing this? Lots of folks write but not many in verse.

Calvin Trillin
>> Well, this is a total accident. Again, and I happened -- I used to be called a special occasion poet. Or I should say I used to be what I think of as a special occasion poet, the guy who does the long poem at the rehearsal dinner or the anniversary or big birthday. And I somehow -- actually I may be the only poet ever who was inspired by John Sununu. Not the senator but his father who used to chief of staff -- to be George H.W. bush's chief of staff and was a guy that had a lot of qualities that drew a lot of attention from people like me and wanting to be the smartest guy in the room or show himself. And I loved his name. And I kept saying Sununu. Finally I did a poem called "if you knew what Sununu." And that launched me as a poet.




Ted Simons
>> What kind of reaction have you had to the books? The verse books not only the fact that they are written in rhyme but the fact that they are political and they kind of go at a certain angle. What kind of reaction are you getting?

Calvin Trillin
>> Depends on which party the person follows. I think. I mean, some people think it's just obviously silly. And I don't blame them at all for thinking that. And these have been specifically about George Bush. And so I think it helped the sales a lot. I mean, George Bush is -- I mean, the first book was called "Obliviously on He Sails" and that was from a poem I wrote, a two-line poem when his college marks came out during the 2000 primaries without much effect on the campaign. And the two-line poem went "obliviously on he sails with marks not quite as good as Quayle's." well, it sort of depends on your politics how you respond to a poem like that.

Ted Simons
>> How about other books that you have written?

Calvin Trillin
>> Yeah.

Ted Simons
>> A lot about eating and personal things about your life and father.

Calvin Trillin
>> Right.

Ted Simons
>> Compare and contrast reaction. I guess my -- my question is when you write about such personal things, do people react like I had the same thing happen to me?

Calvin Trillin
>> No.

Ted Simons
>> Or are they reacting to you and your situation?

Calvin Trillin
>> They often draw parallels with their lives. And I did a book about a college classmate of mine, the person in the class we thought might be the president who committed suicide in his 50s. And a lot of the letters I got had to do with "I knew somebody like Denny" or "I was like Denny." and a lot of people -- I did a book on my father. In general, people, even though they came from totally different kind of background than I did, whose father you'd think -- I mean, my father was from an immigrant family and he was a grocer in Kansas City. And I got letters from people, Episcopalian priests, who said your father reminds me of my father. And I think the books -- I mean, if you go by which books sell the most or become best sellers or something, it's the memoirs and the verse books rather than the food books or the reporting books.

Ted Simons
>> Arizona. Your history here. Before the interview we talked about the fact you were in Bisbee about 30 odd years ago?


Calvin Trillin
>> It must have been in the 70s. I should have looked it up before I came. I used to do a piece for the New Yorker every three weeks from somewhere around the United States. I did that for 15 years. So I was in Arizona several times for that. And I was in Tucson for a murder story, and some controversy in Maricopa valley. I can't remember exactly what it was. And Bisbee, I remember my story was -- it may have even been the title "The Ground Floor" because people thought Bisbee, which until a few years before that, had been basically a Phelps-Dodge company town. And which was great-looking. I mean, saved by the fact that if you're a company town during the sort of urban renewal period of American life where a lot of beautiful things were torn down in the name of progress and modernization with government grants and stuff, if they didn't have that sort of energy the town got saved. So it was beautiful. And a lot of people, as I remember, I haven't read the story in maybe since I did it. But a lot of people thought this was going to be the new Aspen or the new Sante Fe. And what they needed to do was get in on the ground floor. So it was really sort of about I guess speculation would be the word.

Ted Simons
>> Well, I guess if we could define it now it -- it would be halfway between what it was and that Aspen Sante Fe goal. Kind of creeping there.

Calvin Trillin
>> Interesting to see it.

Ted Simons
>> Last question, advice to young writers. When they ask for your advice, what do you tell them?

Calvin Trillin
>> Go into software sales, I say.

Ted Simons
>> Calvin Trillin, thank you very much for joining us.

Calvin Trillin
>> Thank you.

Calvin Trillin:Author

Journalists Roundtable

Season of Light: Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir
airs Dec. 12

Season of Light: Christimas with the Tabernacle Choir

Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen
aired Dec. 3

Agatha Christie: Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen

Pavlo: Live in Santorini
aired Dec. 3

Don’t miss ‘Pavlo: Live in Santorini’

aired Nov. 28

Stewart Udall: The Politics of Beauty

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: