Thursday, April 16, 2009


I saw Tobias Wolff at Arcadia University last week. He read from his collection of new and selected (previously published) stories, Our Story Begins, which is now out in paperback.    

Wolff also spoke about his life as a writer and how it all began.  As a teenager, Wolff saw a picture in Life magazine of Ernest Hemingway with Marlene Dietrich on his arm and thought, "I want to be a writer."  This was back when writers enjoyed the glamorous life, when they were featured in the black and white photographs of Life--Hemingway at his camp desk in Africa,  F. Scott Fitzgerald in Paris. Once he began writing, Wolff said, he realized all the hard work these men had had to do before they attained the glamorous life.  

With each of the stories Wolff read, he briefly talked about their origin.  His fictional work is not autobiographical.  He saves that for his memoirs - so far This Boy's Life and In Pharaoh's Army.  Instead he says that "more and more it is the interior life" that he is describing.  An emotion, a decision, revisited in fiction. "Her Dog" captures the regret a man feels as he walks his dead wife's dog.  The dog talks.  As Wolff says, "Anyone who has a dog, knows they talk."  The dog is hard on the man, insisting that he, the dog, treated the wife better than the husband had.  

Next he read "Bullet to the Brain."  A book reviewer is caught in a bank robbery and can't help critiquing the cliched language of the robbers.  The idea for this story began when a friend of Wolff's was telling him what happened when he witnessed a bank robbery.  Wolff was disappointed that what the robbers said was something right out of a TV show.  

If you have a chance to see Wolff, I highly recommend it.  Not only is he one of today's best short story writers, he's funny and has an amazing memory for the words and stories of other authors.
After the reading, a reception was held at the Grey Towers Castle.  Once a private residence, it is now the jewel at the center of Arcadia's beautiful campus.  Take a tour if you're in the neighborhood.

I'm not sure if Wolff is hobnobbing with Hollywood stars, but he certainly is glamorous.


  1. I agree with your admiration for T. Wolff. His "Bullet to the Brain," occurs physically and psychologically inside the brain of this critic. His memoir is captivating because he captures the compex horror and humor knocking around in complex characters/people. He's a master. Glad to see you celebrating him here on your blog.

  2. Woolf is wonderful to listen to. His timing, his grumbling. See him if you can. If not, I think Narrative Magazine has an audio file of him reading "Say Yes."