Monday, March 17, 2008

My all-time favourite author

His parents encouraged their children to pursue their artistic interests, to the point that when Steig’s brother Henry expressed interest in becoming a dentist, his mother discouraged him. Henry became a jazz musician, a novelist, and a jeweler instead. William was willing to study art, at least sporadically: He dropped out of City College after two years, the National Academy of Design after three years, and the Yale School of Fine Arts after five days. He dreamed of going to sea, and had papers to ship out when, in 1929, the stock market crashed, and took his parents’ savings with it. He had to go to work, making pictures.

Who's your favourite author? Some writers avoid that question like the plague, for a host of reasons. Because favourites change over time. Because it's easier to talk about books that we've loved or that have influenced us than authors. Because we don't want to look stupid: Truth be told maybe it's not Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Hemingway or Bellow. Maybe it's ... William Steig. When I think about my favourite authors Steig is the name that keeps coming back. Okay maybe it's because I've read a lot over the last thirteen years and ninety percent of it has been picture books (my eldest daughter is fourteen, my youngest three). I'm re-reading (for probably the hundredth time) the entire Steig oeuvre and I am convinced more than ever that he was one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century. For me, there is absolutely no doubt that the combination of drama and mordant lyricism in "The Amazing Bone" equals anything by Hemingway. "The Zabajaba Jungle" is as harrowing as "Lord of the Flies" only more subtle in existential depth. "Gorky Rises" is positively ethereal. Okay, I'm being somewhat facetious, somewhat. But I've always fantasized about writing a thesis on Steig. Read him. Drink in the simple artistry of his pictures, bask in his language, delight in his dark humour. And check out this article about the conflicted soul of the master storyteller:

1 comment:

elvi said...

Oh, we're big Steig-lovers over here, too. Dominic has always been a favourite; The Amazing Bone is a classic, as is Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Oh, the pathos. It was a long time before I even realized that several of my favourites were by the same author, they had been standards for so long. Once we noticed, we started actively acquiring more, though I don't think I can say we have the entire oeuvre, even now.