Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Biography: Triangular Road: A Memoir by Paule Marshall

As literary tales go, Paule Marshall’s is a good one. It has elements of Cinderella, with the happy fact that no one was ever required to turn into a pumpkin.

Here is the how story goes. One day in 1965, Marshall -- just one magnificent novel and a single short story collection into her young career -- received a letter from the US Department of State. Before opening the envelope, she flopped the words around in her mind -- “State Department” -- and quite naturally thought the worst. “The letter just had to be bad news of some sort,” Marshall writes in Triangular Road (Basic Civitas). “Why else would the State Department be writing me?”

When she finally gathered her courage enough to open the letter, she found not a nightmare, but a young writer’s fantasy. The world-renowned author and poet Langston Hughes would soon be conducting a month-long cultural tour of Europe and had insisted that “two young writers, of his choosing, be included on the tour.” Did Marshall wish to be one of them?

Triangular Road is not Marshall’s story of that tour. Rather it is, in some rather important ways, her own story. From a historical standpoint, it is perhaps more important to note that the book also tells the story of her stories. Or rather, it shares the experiences that fueled the literary journeys this marvelously talented writer has shared with us.

It’s a slender book; an easy read. A love song to a life well-spent, published on the 50th anniversary of Brown Girl, Brownstones, the debut novel that paved the way for Marshall’s astonishing and deeply engaging career.

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