From the Poetry Center Archive: Celebrating John Cheever
Allan Gurganus, who appeared at our Unterberg Poetry Center’s centennial celebration of John Cheever last May, has now had his tribute essay—originally a tribute address from our stage—published in The New York Review of Books. We thought everyone should take a look:
His best tales have the force of allegory and the benefit of psychology. They can make the ancient rites of dispossession and fratricide lyrical. His short fiction pivots between Freudian case studies, Sherwood Anderson pathologies, and fables by Aesop. This high school dropout’s sources? Solely the best. Madame Bovary, Bulfinch’s Mythology, the Book of Common Prayer, parables from our King James Bible.
As he turns one hundred this year, we must note the continuing livingness, the classical trim and snap, of Cheever’s eternal prose. He hailed from seagoing New Englanders with a fatal love of water. And no one ever wrote about it better. Our race is largely H2O, so we are most richly spiritually at home in a bath, or while doing laps, or as a swimmer seeking some way out. I still wonder if Joni Mitchell didn’t write this great line about John Cheever. “Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”
Speaking of H2O and seeking some way out, here is Cheever himself reading one of his most famous stories, “The Swimmer” at 92Y in 1977.
In an ongoing effort to share with our readers some of the great literary moments which the Poetry Center has presented across the decades, we have begun to feature regular postings of archival recordings. For access to other recordings on our Virtual Poetry Center, please click here.
Unterberg Poetry Center webcasts and access to our archive are made possible in part by the generous support of the Sidney E. Frank Foundation.