Wednesday, April 01, 2009

David Foster Wallace - tributes

Memories and tributes to DFW here. Reproduced below is Mr K. B. Dixon's revealing memory.
I had a chance to see David Foster Wallace onstage at a Portland Arts and Lectures event about 10 years ago. He appeared with Sherman Alexie, Gish Jen, and Cristina GarcĂ­a as part of a panel discussion on what it meant to be a young writer in America. The event was a large one—probably 1,500 people. It was held in one of those elaborately refurbished downtown movie palaces. Everyone onstage and in the audience was, to some degree, gussied up for the occasion—everyone except Dave, that is. He arrived wearing a pair of big blond work boots, ratty jeans, and some sort of long-sleeve, waffle-weave undershirt. He looked like a down-on-his-luck logger.
There was little reading that night; it was mostly a Q&A. Something Dave said about his nervousness and the peculiarity of the affair made me think of an old Kurt Vonnegut anecdote. Vonnegut was giving a speech he was nervous about. He didn't think it was any good. He mentioned this sotto voce to the eminence sitting on the dais beside him and this man told him, by way of reassurance, that he, KV, shouldn't worry about it—nobody really cared anything about what he had to say; they were just there because they wanted to see if he was an honest man.
When I got home, I wrote Dave a note, passing this little story on. I introduced myself and explained that I had just seen him "flamboyantly underdressed" at the Arts and Lectures event in Portland. A few weeks later, Dave wrote back. He used a small thank-you card (Expressions from Hallmark). He said he understood Vonnegut's unease. "These 'writerly' forums are a priori impossible to be honest at." In a postscript, he replied good-naturedly to my comment about his appearance. He wrote, "I was not underdressed. The lady said casual—the other three were overdressed."
Given the demands on his time and for his attention, this thoughtful, funny little note to a complete stranger struck me as a surprising and generous thing. From reading these posts, it is obvious that it was not unusual.

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