Frank Conroy, 1936-2005

I never had the chance to take in Frank first-hand (poets seldom do), but over the past four years I have heard stories about the man (and will probably hear them for the next forty) from friends and frenemies that have painted a singular, striking portrait. I raise my phantom whiskey glass at another old guard passing. Creeley, Bellow, Conroy..."may we meet again in the far, starry Milky Way."


Grendel said...
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Grendel said...

Frank Conroy was a figure so large it's hard to get a grip on what his passing signifies. The loss to writers and to writing is immeasurable. Yet here was a guy whose talent was too prodiogious to be confined within one art form, as anyone who heard him play piano can attest. And he wasn't satisfied with dedicating himself to mastering two forms of creativity, either, as almost any other major artist you could name would have. No, he had to spend his reserve in passing on as much of his extraordinary wisdom to other people as possible during his lifetime. That is a form of selflessness that is rare in people, but I think is especially rare in artists.

Had he not included us in his quest to make writing as good as it could possibly be, he would have written more, and who knows what kind of works would have come out of all that love and passion. In terms of novelistic fame his name would no doubt be up there with Bellow's, Styron's, Vonnegut's, O'Connor's, and so on. Instead he produced intensely brilliant single works and essays over the years while using the rest of his energy to drive his students to seek greatness, too. His students were his work as much as the writing and music were.

Not just a legend, not just a world-class teacher, not just one who studied prose the way Einstein studied light, not just a man who could make people tremble when he walked into a room and then giggle like fools at his wit and humor, Frank provided for all of us an irreplaceable, direct, and personal connection to the best of our country's literary tradition. That he did this always with that boyish enthusiasm and half-cracked smile is what breaks my heart more than anything. Good God will this man be missed.

SER said...

For those of you in Iowa City - we'll be meeting at George's at 7pm tonight (Weds.) to reminisce.

kclou said...

This is sad, sad news. My non-Iowa friends know him simply as Frank for all of the stories I've told about the man. He more or less questioned my manhood in the Dey House men's room, and I never minded.

I wish I could be at George's to sing his praises tonight. Someone please order one bourbon and one beer (concurrently, of course) in honor of his memory.

Anonymous said...

Holy shit.

I mean, really? Is this a joke? Frank was one of those guys who would glare at Death and berate him with a scathing critique, and Death would start crying and run away, scythe falling into the dust.

My absolutely favorite Frank quote of all time, left incomplete, because the last half of the sentence hardly matters:

"When a cat goes to the movies . . . "

Confucius said...

Our first semester in workshop, a fellow student was having legal issues with his film, and some Hollywood lackey was sent to Iowa City to issue him a subpoena. The man foolishly knocked on our classroom door just as Frank was beginning to discuss a story. The man peaked his head into the room, then an arm, then a leg, excused himself, and asked if the student was there, if he could speak with him a moment.


You've never seen a door shut so fast.

I have no idea what happened with the lawsuit, but for forty minutes, the student was safe, nestled in the bosom of Literature. Nobody, not even the Hollywood bigwigs, messed with the Workshop, as long as Frank was there. Nobody.

Grendel said...

Paul Ingram wrote a nice tribute to Frank on his blog.

TLB said...

Frank said some very kind words to me on a couple of occasions when I desperately needed them. He taught me that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to fiction, except to be true to your vision, and to use precision in language. I never felt that he played favorites or wanted anything more than for all of us to be the best writers we could be.

I felt privledged to sit in one of his last classes. The workshop will not be the same without him.

Billy Liar said...

One of my favorite memories from all my time in Iowa City was when I found myself alone in the EPB elevator with Frank, just a day or so after I finished reading "Midair" (his short story with that great elevator scene). I was so secretly giddy -- and couldn't believe my greater fortune a few months later when he spoke to our Undergraduate Workshop.

ian said...

His criticism once made me punch a bathroom wall, and I don't think he ever knew my name, but since I left Iowa, his influence on me has grown a hundred-fold.

Here, lest we only discuss what a great teacher he was, is my favorite passage from Stop-Time.

"The greatest pleasure in yo-yoing was an abstract pleasure -- watching the dramatization of simple physical laws, and realizing they would never fail if a trick was done correctly. The geometric purity of it! The string wasn't just a string, it was a tool in the eneactment of theorems. It was a line, an idea. And the top was an entirely different sort of idea, a gyroscope, capable of storing energy and of interacting with the line. I remember the first time I did a particularly lovely trick, one in which the sleeping yo-yo is swung from right to left while the string is interrupted by an extended index finger. Momentum carries the yo-yo in a circular path around the fingerm but instead of completing the arc the yo-yo falls on the taut string between the performer's hands, where it continues to spin in an upright position. My pleasure at that moment was as much from the beauty of the experiment as from pride. Snapping apart my hands I sent the yo-yo into the air above my head, bouncing it off nothing, back into my palm.

"I practiced the yo-yo because it pleased me to do so, without the slightest application of will power. It wasn't ambitiont hat drove me, but the nature of yo-yoing. The yo-yo represetned my first organized attempt to control the outside world. It fascinated me because I could see my progress in clearly defined stages, and because the intimacy of it, the almost spooky closeness I began to feel with the instrument in my hand, seemed to ensure that nothing irrelevant would interfere. I was, in the language of jazz, "up tight" with my yo yo, and finally free, in one small area at least, of the paralyzing sloppiness of life in general."

bihari said...

My favorite Frank quote: "Your fiction will become more interesting as you age and can write about something other than the emergency of you."