Why it’s so great: Tyler is a novelist, not a journalist. But the work of writing is the work of writing. In this New York Times profile by Charles McGrath – based on a rare bit of time with reclusive Tyler in her Baltimore home, which holds a “writing room so uncluttered and antiseptic you could safely perform surgery there” – Tyler speaks plainly of that hard work, which remains hard no matter the number or prestige of your awards: “I always say that the way you write a novel is for the first 83 drafts you pretend that nobody is ever, ever going to read it.” (Journalists don’t get the indulgence of 83 drafts, or of nobody reading. Maybe we should be more grateful for deadlines? And for our audience, cranky as it can be?)
I love clean spaces, so found myself drawn to the unclutter of Tyler’s home described in McGrath’s piece. I’d like to sit there and drink iced tea or wine, and talk or not talk, and be … uncluttered. I also have a fascination with Baltimore, one of America’s most troubled cities but also one of its truest.
But what held me was this simple, particular sentence, and how it speaks with no clutter of what I think of as the best of narrative journalism. It is Tyler speaking of her experience, at 14, to stumbling across “A Curtain of Green and Other Stories,” by the unparalleled Eudora Welty. Tyler was a voracious reader since early childhood. But not until she read Welty did she see herself in a story – not just in the relatable people the stories were about, but in how they were written. My introduction to Welty came much later in life, after I was already slogging in the oft-unglamorous work of newspaper reporting. “One Writer’s Beginnings” didn’t turn me into a novelist (my imagination has always been a poor substitute for the can’t-make-this-up world outside of me). But it grounded me at a needed time in the notion that this work we do matters, and that is honorable and necessary to “just tell what’s real out” there that we see.