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Laurie Colwin

This past week I had been in and out of bookstores, both used and new, the library, community thrift—anywhere I can scavenger-hunt the books named in the many interesting and aptly titled book lists from the book The King’s English. I have mentioned the book and the bookstore by the same name. The lists will form a backbone of my reading plan for the rest of the year.

One name has come up in more than one lists and has caught my attention from other resources: Laurie Colwin. Who is she? (I have never heard of her, let alone read the books.) She is the author of five novels: Happy All the Time, Family Happiness, Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object, Goodbye Without Leaving, and A Big Storm Knocked It Over; three collections of short stories: Passion and Affect, The Lone Pilgrim, and Another Marvelous Thing; and two collections of essays: Home Cooking and More Home Cooking.

Colwin was born in Manhattan, New York City, and grew up in Lake Ronkonkoma, on Long Island, Philadelphia and Chicago, the second child of Estelle Colwin (née Woolfson) and Peter Colwin. In Philadelphia, she attended the Cheltenham High School, which inducted her posthumously into their Hall of Fame in 1999. From a young age, Colwin was a prolific writer. Her work first appeared in The New Yorker, and in 1974 her first collection of short stories was published. She was a regular contributor to Gourmet magazine and had articles in Mademoiselle, Allure, and Playboy. Colwin died unexpectedly in 1992, in Manhattan, from a heart attack at the age of 48.

I am reading A Big Storm Knocked It Over, which is her last novel. Few pages in the book I realize Colwin is not an author who gives you a chain of events, because the book has no linear plot. It’s a cross-section of a place, time, and circumstance. With simple but contemplative prose Colwin delineates the first year of marriage, where Jane Louise Parker struggles for footing.

I can see why a low-profile author, never a bestselling one, still manages to have books in print. More than decade after her lamentably premature death, Laurie Colwin enjoys a distinction that eludes all but the luckiest among living writers. Colwin is a bighearted writer. I’m so glad I have found her.

6 Responses

  1. how interesting! i haven’t heard of her but she sounds worth checking out.

    • I know! I have never heard of her until I was browsing through the wonderful book lists from the book The King’s English.

  2. I can’t remember how I discovered her, but I do recall that — as with Barbara Pym’s novels — I binged on them for a good spell afterwards, and now I don’t remember them individually, just remember liking them quite well. Her works are often readily available second-hand, which makes it doubly easy to add to the collection, but of course I should check out some of her newer works too, as the one you’re reading sounds very good!

    • Laurie Colwin is an outmoded author who is worthy of reading for sure. Interesting you mention Barbara Pym because she also made a couple of the the same book lists. I need to check her works too.

  3. I love Colwin’s work. Oddly, I first discovered her when idly flipping through an issue of Playboy magazine that I found at someone’s house. She had a short story in there. (My Mistress). I was hooked.

  4. I have never heard of this author or any of her books before. I’ll be interested to hear more about her writing as you progress through her work.

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