In his third volume of memoir, Reynolds Price explores six crucial years of his life -- his departure from home in 1955 to spend three years as a student at Oxford University; then his return to North Carolina to begin his long career as a university teacher.
He gives often moving, and frequently comic, portraits of his great teachers in England -- such men as Lord David Cecil, Nevill Coghill, and W. H. Auden, who was the most distinguished English-language poet of those years. In London the poet and editor Stephen Spender becomes his first publisher and a generous friend who introduces him to rewarding figures like the essayist Cyril Connolly and George Orwell's encouraging widow, Sonia. He spends rich months traveling in Britain and on the Continent; and above all he undergoes the first loves of his life -- one with an Oxford colleague whom he describes as a "romantic friend" and another with an older man.
Back in the States, in his first class at Duke he meets a startlingly gifted student in the sixteen-year-old Anne Tyler; and he soon combines the difficult pleasures of teaching English composition and literature with his own hard delight in learning to write a first novel. At the end of three lonely years, he completes the novel -- A Long and Happy Life -- and returns to England for a fourth year before his novel appears in Britain and America and meets with a success that sets the pace for an ongoing life of fiction, poetry, plays, essays, and translations (Ardent Spirits is his thirty-eighth volume).
The droll memories recorded here amount to the unsurpassed -- and, again, often comical -- story of a writer's beginnings; and the young man who emerges has proven his right to stand by his fellows of whatever sex and goal. Ardent Spirits is a book that penetrates deeply into the life of a writer, a teacher, and a steadfast lover.
Reynolds Price (1933-2011) was born in Macon, North Carolina. Educated at Duke University and, as a Rhodes Scholar, at Merton College, Oxford University, he taught at Duke beginning in 1958 and was the James B. Duke Professor of English at the time of his death. His first short stories, and many later ones, are published in his Collected Stories. A Long and Happy Life was published in 1962 and won the William Faulkner Award for a best first novel. Kate Vaiden was published in 1986 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Good Priest's Son in 2005 was his fourteenth novel. Among his thirty-seven volumes are further collections of fiction, poetry, plays, essays, and translations. Price is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and his work has been translated into seventeen languages.
“His beautiful books, his tremendous productivity, his spirituality and cheerfulness, his abiding friendships—all these generous traits and dynamic accomplishments have characterized Reynolds Price…. Ardent Spirits is … effervescent.”--Edmund White, The New York Review of Books
“Ardent Spirits is Mr. Price’s third memoir [and] it is the best of this winning lot… Price’s warmth, vigor and good humor consistently shine through.”--Dwight Garner, New York Times
“The most compelling book he’s published since Kate Vaiden in 1986. Price has always been one of our finest storytellers, but in Ardent Spirits he rises to new heights, delivering a compelling account of a profoundly exciting period in a young man’s life.”--Charlotte Observer