Just over a week from today, May 15th, is Raymond Federman's birthday. He'd of turned 83.
Turns out, what I said, in hindsight, was an embarrassing, gushing piece of fan mail basically, but Federman didn't treat it as such and, to my surprise, actually responded ... to me ... and did so at great length! He responded to what for all he knew could've been a crazed stalker-U.S.A.-fan of his sending him a note out of the blue. We corresponded four or five times that year; sadly, his last, and I had absolutely no idea during this time that he was so terribly sick, since he was always encouraging, upbeat and funny, sharing anecdotes, including stories of his close friendship with Samuel Beckett. I was floored.
Feeling bold, I sent him my review of Smiles on Washington Square, and while he was sincerely complimentary, he also let me know that "Smiles is a very deceptive little book, a satire of the romance novel," and went on to point out -- and did so humbly, not condescendingly at all -- each theme and parodic thread and novelistic device he employed to expound upon what I had missed of course; or, more precisely, had go straight over my amateur-reviewer's head! What a kind, generous man he was, talking to me, a complete stranger!
Too bad North America largely ignored him: His groundbreaking criticism on Samuel Beckett; his exuberant, wildly playful, concrete-poetic novels recounting his emigration to the States, early days in the military, and the holocaust atrocities he personally faced and survived before leaving Europe. Their loss, North America's. Thankfully, he was beloved in Europe like he deserved; and particularly France.
Below are Raymond Federman's garrulous responses to my initial gush and follow-up correspondences. Note that when he says "DON" he's referring to his funny and philosophical debut novel, Double or Nothing: A Real Fictitious Discourse (1971); and when he says, "TIOLI," he means what many critics consider his magnum opus, Take It Or Leave It (1976).
Now I know more about you and how you got involved with Federman's books.
Smiles on Washington Square may not be as wild in terms of typography and
other gimmicks I used on DON and TIOLI as my friends call these two books
but it is deceptive. You are right - does Moinous really exist or has he been
invented by Sucette -- or is it the reverse has Moinous invented Sucette because
he wants so much to be loved and to love -- What is certain is that they really
never meet behond the smiles on W.S.
When were you at Chapman U. ? Since I moved to San Diego 10 years ago
after having retired from SUNY-Buffalo, my good friend Mark Axelrod invited
me to teach twice at Chapman - I did a course on experimental fiction one
semester and another semester a creative writing seminar. I really enjoyed
the students -- and some are still in touch with me.
My old friend Samuel Beckett said to me in 1966 when I told him that I had
started a novel -- Raymond, he said, if you write for money, do something
else. And after a moment of silence only Sam could make comfortable
he added, and never compromise your work.
I think I have respected his advice -- that is why I never became rich with
the books I wrote and I suppose why my work is somewhat ignored in
America. Oh well. What counts is to receive the kind of letter you wrote me
the other day. So I say to you -- stick with it.
I am not very good at promoting my books - and I really don't have time
right now to join any group. But thanks for suggesting it.
All the best
Sorry for the delay in responding, work's been a bit crazy last few days, which is a good thing.
I was at Chapman from 89-93, and I believe I was in one of the first classes Dr. Axelrod ever taught, which was I think '91. Funny story about Axelrod real quick: Most of us in his class had a hard time really getting "in" to Honore Balzac, which as I'm sure you know was (and perhaps still is) a specialty of his. He got so frustrated with our lack of interest and preparedness that one day a few minutes into the class session he just rose up from his desk with a sigh and exited the classroom w/out a word. Next session he brought in some Stephen King for us slackers to dissect to get us interested in approaching fiction. Sad commentary (not toward Dr. Axelrod) but toward us kids whose parents were shelling out boo-koo bucks that we might get taught genre appreciation rather than the real lit. we'd signed up for and yet refused to tackle. Some of us, thankfully, have grown up since then! I wish I'd of had the chance to take one of your seminars (especially now after finding your work).
Btw, I've ordered DON and TIOLI (new, not used) and they should be arriving at my door this week. I reviewed "Smiles..." and posted it on LibraryThing.com and goodreads.com, and it's getting some good response from my friends and acquaintances there. Yes, it was a glowingly positive review (5 stars out of 5 stars). I enjoy promoting neglected and underappreciated work. A recent acquaintance, in fact, the writer, John Domini (are you familiar w/him?) spoke very highly of (forgive me if I get the title wrong) "Twofold Vibration". So I'll probably order that one eventually too. Should've ordered your work a long time ago and long abandoned my search through used aisles.
And thanks for the encouragement! I will stick with it.
ps. hearing you mention Samuel Beckett's personal advice to you made me giddy. Samuel Beckett!? Whoa, I need to sit down now."
|Federman's first book|
Sent: Fri, 17 Apr 2009 8:27 am
Subject: The Road!!!
Just wanted to drop a note and say thank you for insisting that I read The Road. What a wonderful reading experience it was! I'd actually avoided it since I'm something of a snob and didn't like the Oprah Winfrey association with his work, but have since realized that she has excellent taste in literature.
Thanks again for the recommendation. Hope all is well.
all is well here
but very busy getting ready to leave for France on Sunday.
Glad you liked The Road -- an important book.
All the best
And that, turned out, to be the end of the road in my dialogue with Mist-, er, Raymond Federman. What an absolute honor it was to have corresponded with him. All wasn't well with him, of course, as he was suffering from cancer at the time of our correspondence, but having survived the Holocaust, he wasn't one to complain about personal "trifles" like cancer, perhaps. What a privilege it was to hear him share those "Sam" anecdotes and remembrances. I never met Raymond in person, but I think his abundant and buoyant personality shone through in his e-mails. And if you know anything at all about how horrific Federman's boyhood began, when his entire family was murdered by the Nazis, and only he survived, his fortitude and optimism and lust for life, replete through all his novels, is all the more remarkable to contemplate. Rather than be destroyed by evil, he overcame evil with good -- and did so with lots of laughter, lots of obvious love.
Happy Birthday, Raymond Federman! I love your writing and always will. I plan on promoting it every opportunity I get.