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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Bob Dylan Gives his Imperial 65 Typewriter a Big Hug as the Day of the Wedge Dawns

Staying on the subject of Nobel Prize in Literature winners and nominees for the time being, I offhandedly asked Harriet the other day, "Who was the last Nobel Prize Laureate to use a typewriter?" I expected and got the answer "Bob Dylan"*. Yes Dylan, the 2016 prize winner, is known to have used a range of typewriters, from a Royal Caravan to an Olympia SG1, an Olivetti Lexikon 80 and Olivetti Lettera 22 and 32 portables. To my surprise, I found Dylan was also seen in Britain in the mid-60s showing inordinate affection for an Imperial 65. (As great a typewriter as the Imperial 65 is, I must confess I've never felt a compulsion to hug one!)
Kazuo Ishiguro at the Nobel Prize presentation dinner in Stockholm.
Strictly speaking, however, we were both wrong, as I subsequently discovered last year's Nobel Prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro used a Brother AX-10 electronic typewriter to write his 1989 Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Remains of the Day, as well as the telescript The Gourmet and "the bulk of" The Unconsoled.
Ishiguro bought the "wedge" typewriter at the Ryman Stationery store near Covent Garden in London in 1987 (centre, above). The machine was made at Wrexham in North Wales.

Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki on November 8, 1954; his family moved to England in 1960. His 2005 novel Never Let Me Go was named by Time as the best novel of 2005 and included in its list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. In naming him last year's Nobel Prize Laureate, the Swedish Academy described Ishiguro as a writer "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".
Ishiguro has a further "typewriter connection", though tenuous. His father, Shizuo Ishiguro, a physical oceanographer, moved the family to Guildford in Surrey after being invited to research at the National Institute of Oceanography. In 1984 he patented what has been called a kind of "Braille typewriter" - in fact it is "an electronic apparatus for aiding the blind to read ordinary printed letters" (see below).
Kazuo Ishiguro's use of an electronic typewriter may well be seen to signal that time Ted Munk has been warning us about for some years - that what I call "wedges" will "have their day". They might not yet have the same appeal as manual typewriters, but perhaps as the remaining stock of old manuals continues to be exhausted and prices for them keep on skyrocketing, it is not all that far away.
Then again, if some part of the on-going appeal of manual typewriters lies in their use by Nobel Prize-winning authors, our critical question - "Who was the last Nobel Prize Laureate to use a typewriter?" - could well get a new answer.
Late last month The New York Times boldly asked, in a banner headline, "Is the Next Nobel Laureate in Literature Tending Bar in a Dusty Australian Town? With the publication of two new books, Gerald Murnane might finally find an American audience." The article, by Mark Binelli, was about Goroke-based writer Murnane, who still uses a Remington Monarch portable typewriter, as well as other manual models (yes, he is on Richard Polt's list of Writers and Their Typewriters). Goroke is a tiny town in the Wimmera region of western Victoria (population of 623), close to the South Australian border. It takes its name from the Aboriginal term for the Australian magpie.
Binelli quoted Murnane as saying, "In 1979 I taught myself to type using the index finger of my right hand alone. Since then, I have composed all my fiction and other writing using the finger just mentioned and one or another of my three manual typewriters." Binelli went on, "A strong case could be made for Murnane, who recently turned 79 [on February 25], as the greatest living English-language writer most people have never heard of. Even in his home country, he remains a cult figure; in 1999, when he won the Patrick White Award for under-recognised Australian writers, all his books were out of print. Yet his work has been praised by J.M. Coetzee and Shirley Hazzard, as well as young American writers like Ben Lerner and Joshua Cohen. Teju Cole has described Murnane as 'a genius' and a 'worthy heir to Beckett'. Last year, Ladbrokes placed his odds at winning the Nobel Prize for Literature at 50 to 1 — better than Cormac McCarthy, Salman Rushdie and Elena Ferrante."
If Ladbrokes are on the money, as they most often are, the last Nobel Prize Laureate using a manual typewriter might well be Murnane. He's hardly likely, it seems, to switch to anything electronic or computerised at this late stage of his life. 
*Before Dylan, perhaps, Doris Lessing. But who was the first Nobel Prize-winning writer to use a typewriter, I wonder? Maurice Maeterlinck (1911)? Gerhart Hauptmann (1912)? Romain Rolland (1915)? Or George Bernard Shaw (1925)?
Rolland with Mahatma Gandhi - whose typewriter is it?
George Bernard Shaw

Monday, 16 April 2018

Authors With Typewriters and Writers' Environments

I was mindful of increasing the workload for Richard Polt when I posted on Nobel Prize in Literature winners and nominees with their typewriters the other day. And sure enough, Richard, tongue firmly in cheek, duly responded.
Meanwhile, Tony Mindling commented on his love of seeing the writers in their environments. Between them, Richard and Tony have inspired me to return briefly to the subject. For a writer's environment, my own favourite is this image of Robert Penn Warren at work:
Some years ago Richard and I wondered whether Tennessee Williams was the writer most often photographed at his (various) typewriters. Now I think the honour should go to Georges Simenon:
And what is this odd looking typewriter Renée Faure is using in the 1960 film le President, based on a Simenon novel?
Finally, these images of Katherine Anne Porter remind me of how different and more pleasant it is to sit down at a gleaming manual portable, as opposed to a Selectric or indeed a computer:

Friday, 13 April 2018

Secret Love Lives on in Canberra Suburbs, Even Long After Death

Australian poet Judith Wright at her Hermes 3000 typewriter
It's more than 10 years now since the Australian Capital Territory's Place Names Committee announced that among the new suburbs to be built in the Molonglo Valley outside Canberra would be planned adjoining developments called Wright, after the Nobel Prize-nominated Australian poet Judith Wright, and Coombs, after "Nugget" Combs, an economist who had been Director-General of Post-War Reconstruction, Chancellor of the Australian National University and the first Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia. All well and good, given this pair had been two of Australia's most well-known and well-loved public figures. But there was far more to the Place Names Committee's decision than met the eye. Indeed, it provided an extremely rare glimpse of bureaucratic romanticism. Someone on the committee was "in the know".
Wright had passed away in Canberra, aged 85, on June 25, 2000, 7½ years before the suburb naming honour was bestowed upon her, on January 2, 2008. Coombs had died and been given a state funeral almost 2½ years earlier, on October 29, 1997. But it wasn't just because they were both long out of the local limelight that the significance and poignancy of this naming decision was lost on almost all Canberrans. Even today, many people - even among those now living in the growing suburbs of Wright and Combs - would be unaware that for a quarter of a century, Wright and Coombs were secret lovers. Yet, as Wright once wrote to a friend in England, confessing to the affair without naming names, "Love is love, no matter what the problems, and always joyful even in the pain."
Coombs and Wright picnic in the bush.
In revealing the affair in her article "In the Garden" in the The Monthly in June 2009, Fiona Capp pointed out that although Wright had helped care for Coombs in the two years before his death, following a series of strokes, she was unable to attend Coombs's funeral because their relationship had never been made public. "Coombs and his wife, Mary, were separated, but his loyalty to Mary and to his children meant that he never contemplated a divorce. Wright was even more determined to keep the affair a secret. She'd been in a similar position with her late husband, the philosopher Jack McKinney, when they first met and she still carried guilt about the pain she felt she'd caused his family. One of the most remarkable things about this relationship [between Wright and Coombs] is the silence that has continued to surround it ... It is a measure of the respect in which they are held that their desire for privacy, even after death, has been observed."
Judith Arundell Wright was born in Armidale, New South Wales, on May 31,1915, and spent most of her formative years in Brisbane and Sydney. She attended New England Girls' School and studied Philosophy, English, Psychology and History at the University of Sydney. For the last three decades of her life, she lived near the New South Wales town of Braidwood, so she could be closer to Coombs, who was based in Canberra. She spent her last few years living in a small bedsit in Canberra. Herbert Cole Coombs was born in Kalamunda, Western Australia, on February 24, 1906.
A page from one of Judith Wright's typescripts, seen in the National Library
of Australia's 50th anniversary exhibition.
Wright was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1967, coming up against a daunting field of 69 other contenders, including W.H. Auden, Samuel Beckett, Saul Bellow, Lawrence Durrell, E.M. Forster, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Katherine Anne Porter, Ezra Pound, Georges Simenon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Penn Warren, Thornton Wilder and Edmund Wilson. Only eight on the formidable nomination list ever won the prize, and with Wright, those who failed to win included Auden, Durrell, Forster, Graves, Greene, Porter, Pound, Simenon, Tolkien, Warren, Wilder and Wilson. (See the full list below, as well as a list of all winners from 1967-2017). 
Wright also has a street named in her honour, in the suburb of Franklin, which is named for the great Australian writer Miles Franklin (typewriter left). Indeed, Canberra has a habit of saluting writers and
journalists with the names of its suburbs and streets. The streets of McKellar are named for journalists, including Charles Bean (typewriter above right), Kenneth Slessor (typing left), Hugh Buggy, the cricket writer who used a Remington portable to coin the phrase "Bodyline", and Sir Frederick Lloyd DumasThe streets in Garran are named after Australian writers, and the suburb of Richardson is named for Henry Handel Richardson (real name Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson, typewriter below right). 
The suburb of Fraser is named after the political correspondent and later politician James Reay Fraser, who used an early Remington portable. The suburb called Taylor is named after magazine publisher and journalist Florence Taylor. I live in Hughes, which is named for former Prime Minister Billy Hughes, who used a Corona 3 folding portable (and banned the import version of the Erika folding, the Bijou). Lawson is named for the great writer Henry Lawson and Gordon for the poet Adam Gordon Lindsay
The suburb of Gilmore is named for author and journalist Mary Gilmore (typewriter left). As well, the 
Australian Electoral Commission has just announced that a proposed new Federal electorate for the ACT will be named in honour of war correspondent and official war historian Charles Bean, seen below (the electorate will cover the Molonglo Valley district, including Wright and Coombs).
 Alejo Carpentier
 Alberto Moravia 
 Anna Seghers 
 Carlos Drummond de Andrade 
 Eugenio Montale 
 Friedrich Georg Jünger 
 Georges Simenon 
Katherine Anne Porter
Ezra Pound
Lawrence Durrell
Eugène Ionesco 
 Miguel Ángel Asturias
 Konstantin Paustovskij 
 Ernst Jünger 
Robert Penn Warren
 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 
 Bob Dylan
 Doris Lessing
 Derek Walcott
 Günter Grass 
Gabriel García Márquez 
 Heinrich Böll 
 Isaac Bashevis Singer 
 Jorge Amado 
 Väinö Linna 
 Pietro Ubaldi 
 Saul Bellow
Simon Vestdijk 
Mario Vargas Llosa
 Max Frisch
Nadine Gordimer 
Joseph Brodsky