Writer and Communityrnby Fred ChappellrnMost writers feel honored by literary prizes—in the way Irnfeel so honored by the award of the T.S. Eliot prize—rnwhether they accept them or not. At the same time, manyrnwriters share the wish that their vocation could be carried onrnanonymously. By the time they have become suitably proficientrnat their art and have established a proper reputationrnamong their peers and critics, they are no longer compelled byrnpersonal glory. They have often tired a little of the notion ofrnfame. A decade or two of essaying the spectacular but exhaustingrnParnassian slope will do some serious damage to selfpride.rnThis vanity is then fairly annihilated when we raise ourrneyes to observe how much farther up the ridges our ancestorsrnhave established themselves and with what ease they seem tornhave done so.rnThe advantages of anonymity are attractive. In the firstrnplace, if a critic had no name to point his cruelly barbed shaftsrnat, the guilty writer could escape with a minimum of publicrnembarrassment. He would still writhe and whimper in private,rnbut at least his mother would not have to know the truth; herncould choose some other anonymous work, one that had receivedrnonly praise that rang like silver bells, and claim that onernas his own. The other advantage of anonymity is that it wouldrnprevent scrutiny of the writer’s personal life.rnFred Chappell is a poet, novelist, and professor of English atrnthe University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He was thern1993 recipient of the Ingersoll Foundation’s T.S. Eliot Awardrnfor Creative Writing, for which this was his acceptance speech.rnI do not propose to talk at length about the private lives ofrnauthors; they really do not bear much looking into. If writersrnwere as well-known as film stars, and if the tabloids were interestedrnin any dead people besides Elvis, the National Enquirerrncould fill its pages for years to come with stories of the folliesrnand deviltries of scribblers. I could contribute quite a few myselfrn—except I know that I would receive payment in kind,rndoubled and redoubled, stories of my own idiocies and misdemeanorsrnthat I could not deny. I suppose that writers’ lives arernnot generally more sordid or dishonorable than those of somernof their friends and neighbors, but I have to tell you that Irnwould not care to have mine examined in public. I would feelrnmore embarrassed, and with pretty good reason, than those sexuallyrnconfused people who appear so compulsively on the televisionrntalk shows. Yet finally, I believe that a writer’s privaternlife ought to be made public. I have always tried to share thernconviction of my compeers that one’s work is what counts,rnthat one’s private life is irrelevant to his artistic aspirations andrnaccomplishments, but I no longer feel entirely justified inrndoing so.rnPlease understand that I am not advocating that writersrnuncloset great bundles of their dirty linen and begin to soap itrnup. I am only trying to approach the vexing problem of thernwriter’s relationship to his community. I believe very stronglyrnthat a writer has a duty to belong to his community and to joinrnin actively with its concerns as time and opportunity permit.rnAnd if one of the stages toward communal acceptance is thernadmission and demonstration that writers are only poor mis-rnMAY 1994/21rnrnrn