Calvin Trillin, former staff writer at The New Yorker and current Montgomery Fellow, recently met with Dartmouth Arts and Sciences graduate students to discuss the state of writing in America, and the important role that food has played in both his writing and life.
As a Montgomery Fellow in residence, Trillin met with students, attended classes, and gave a public lecture to the Dartmouth community. Entitled “Eating with the Pilgrims,” Trillin talked about the traditions of food in America and detailed his desire for spaghetti carbonara to replace turkey as the traditional meal of Thanksgiving.
Over lunch at the Montgomery House on Occum Pond, Trillin spoke to graduate students about his experiences at The New Yorker as well as his career as a journalist, essayist, and novelist. He described his personal process of writing and editing professionally, along with his beginnings as a young writer. One of Trillin’s early assignments was to cover the Freedom Rides in the segregated South of the early 1960s, and he noted that this most likely influenced his lifelong ability to write in chaotic environments.
“I learned to be a writer typing on the back of buses that people threw things at,” Trillin said.
When composing a new piece, Trillin stated that in his first draft, he typically writes down all of his initial thoughts, reactions and comments. Upon completing this draft (which Trillin humorously termed “getting the throw-up out”) he then begins to compose the final piece. When he switched from a typewriter to a computer, Trillin stated the composition process quickened, but his writing approach remained the same. Having worked under such noted editors as The New Yorker‘s William Shawn, when asked about his relationship with editors, Trillin noted that he welcomes revisions from all sources.
“If the office boy has a suggestion, I’ll listen to it,” says Trillin.
Author of American Fried, Alice, Let’s Eat, and Third Helpings, food has played an integral role in much of Trillin’s work. As a writer covering ‘the beat of America’, he was often on the road for weeks at a time, and would learn about places dining at the local restaurants.
His most recent piece in The New Yorker details his love of a family-run Italian restaurant forty minutes outside of New Orleans called Mosca’s. For Trillin, it is these types of restaurants, ones filled with traditions that channel a bygone era, that he enjoys writing about.
It is likely that Trillin will be canonized as one of the definitive voices of his generation, and yet when one graduate student asked about becoming a writer, Trillin warned him of the perils of the profession.
“If your uncle has a venetian blinds business and offers you a job, I would think about taking that,” Trillin joked.
Photo: MALS first year graduate students Wesley Whitaker and Erin O’Flaherty with Calvin Trillin at the Montgomery House. (Photo by Kerry Landers)