One of the treasures of American literature has died. Lewis "Buddy" Nordan passed away today. I was more than fortunate to have had Buddy as a teacher at the University of Arkansas. He introduced me to, among other works, Tristram Shandy, for which I am forever grateful. He was the last person I saw when Cindy and I left Fayetteville. He was at the public library and told us he was leaving town for a job in Pittsburgh. We were off to Louisiana. He told us the job interview got a little tense when the Dean asked him to explain the two or three year gap in his resume. Buddy told us he said, "Well, I sure as hell wasn't sitting around the house drinking vodka." Here's a link to Buddy's books. In January 2009, some of us went up to Auburn University for Buddy-Fest, a symposium, otherwise known as "Lewis Nordan and the Heartbreaking Laughter of Transcendence and Hope." Buddy was there, slowed by his neuropathy, but in great spirits and as sharp and entertaining as ever. He read from a book he was working on--typing it all with one finger--set in Pittsburgh. The University of Alabama Press has pubilshed the papers from that symposium in a new book, Lewis Nordan: Humor, Heartbreak, and Hope.
Listen to Buddy sing in this passage from"The Talker at the Freak Show":
Good linen reminded Mama of trains, and the thought of trains would sometimes soften her mood. She was thinking of black porters in starched white jackets, of Pullman cars flashing across snow-fields and through tiny nameless train stations at dawn and into great cities. She was thinking of soiled linens–sheets piled in the aisles of sleeper cars–and of tablecloths in the diner embossed with the Illinois Central emblem, or with the name of some train on the IC line, the City of New Orleans, the Panama Limited, the Loozianne. She loved to speak the names of those trains. She sang them to me in the night sometimes, sad sweet songs she made up about them. It was my lullaby since the beginning of my memory.
If you haven't read Buddy's stories and novels, you haven't read the most honest, sweet, and heartbreaking fiction ever written.
Good-bye, my friend.
Here's the NYT obit.