It's been a big week for Iowa news. Marilynne Robinson got the Pulitzer on Monday and Frank Conroy died yesterday. He'd had the colon cancer for a while, off and on, but last I knew his health was improving. If you live long enough (and are a man), I'm told, that or the prostate will get you in the end. It's difficult to know how to deal with the impulse to eulogize. None of us thought that he wrote any exceptional fiction after Stop-Time, but Stop-Time was perfectly capable of standing on its own, and his standing as a teacher was unquestioned. We lived in fear of his censure, not so much because it was harshly expressed (though that certainly could be true), but because no matter how you tried to respond in your own mindthat he didn't see the point of the story or that all taste was relative or whateverin the end you'd always realize that he was right. And his praise, when it came, was truly a mark of grace; you knew you'd earned it.
I really did want to publish a book while he was alive. It wouldn't have been a great event for himhundreds of his students have appeared in print by nowand the Workshop is largely interested in the success of its graduates to the extent that it benefits the Workshop. All the same, his recognition and approval of the unwieldy thing I'm writing would have meant a great deal to me. There are some virtues that I know the manuscript posesses, but there are othersif not exactly moral virtues, something closely alliedthat I can't be sure of. Frank would have known.