'I Can't Help Envying You': Famous Authors' Fan Letters to Other Authors

Nine letters of admiration sent between writers, and one scathing letter of scorn
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William S. Burroughs / Letters of Note

An excellent letter of admiration from William Gaddis to Don DeLillo was recently published over at The Daily Beast. It's a reminder that writers are the biggest readers of all, and, by extension, probably even bigger fanboys and fangirls than anyone. To that end, here are a few wonderful fan letters (and one pointed anti-fan letter) from famous authors to their fellow famous authors, ranging from short and sweet to long and flowery.

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From William Gaddis to Don DeLillo, 1988

Wainscott, New York 11975

19 July 1988

Dear Don DeLillo.

Why in the world have I waited till the day your Libra gets its nihil obstat from Christopher Lemondrop to send you a note. It showed up in galleys in New York 2 or 3 months ago when things were ghastly (health) about the time I saw you, I looked into it then & should certainly have written without waiting to read it through because my response was immediate, it is a terrific job. I don't know all your work & also hesitate to say to any writer whatever comparing one of his works to another but in this case must tell you I find it far beyond White Noise. Obviously if we take our work seriously we do not try to clone one novel to its predecessor so comparisons are indeed odious, & equally obviously the constantly shattered & reknit & fragmented again style of this new book appeals to me rather more than the linear narrative, when it's always 9 o'clock in the morning at 9 am & 3pm at 3 in the afternoon if you see what I mean; but the hard cover arrived here a couple of weeks ago & I've just read it & confirmed all my earlier impression, its marriage of style & content—that essential I used to bray about to 'students' in those grim days—is marvelously illustrated here I think & especially as it comes together at the end as we know it must, speaking of the 'nonfiction' novel if we must but why must we, except that concept does embrace the American writer's historic obsession getting the facts down clear (from "tells me more about whales than I really want to know" to Dreiser tapemeasuring Clyde's cell at Sing Sing, or Jack London's "Give me the fact, man, the irrefragable fact!") & again one marvels at what you've marshaled in this impressive piece of work. We'll be out of the country for August but may hope to see you in town in the fall, meanwhile high marks.

best regards,

WG

via [The Daily Beast]

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From Norman Mailer to William Styron, 1953

February 26, 1953

Dear Bill,

You certainly deserve a fan letter. As a matter of fact I've been meaning to write ever since I read "Long March" about a month ago. I think it's just terrific, how good I'm almost embarrassed to say, but as a modest estimate it's certainly as good an eighty pages as any American has written since the war, and really I think it's much more than that. You watch. It's going to last and last and last. And some day people will consider it as being close to the level of something as marvelous as The Heart of Darkness, which by the way, for no reason I know, it reminded me of.

Barbara mentioned that you're without a book at the moment. No solace I can offer, except that crap about waiting and patience which is all true, but no consolation at all.

I have only one humble criticism. I wonder if you realize how good you are. That tendency in you to invert your story and manner your prose just slightly, struck me—forgive the presumption—as coming possibly from a certain covert doubt of your strengths as a writer, and you're too good to doubt yourself. Which I suppose is like saying, "You, neurotic—stop being neurotic!"

Anyway, I did want to write you these few things.

My best to you, Bill,
Norman

[via The New York Review of Books]

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From Ray Bradbury to Robert Heinlein, 1976

DEAR BOB:

YOUR INFLUENCE ON US ALL, FROM 1939 ON, CANNOT BE MEASURED. I CAN ONLY SAY I REMEMBER, WARMLY, YOUR MANY KINDNESSES TO ME WHEN I WAS 19-20-21 YEARS OLD. THAT YOUNG MAN BASKED IN YOUR LIGHT AND WILL CONTINUE TO BE GRATEFUL FOR THE HELP YOU OFFERED WHEN I WAS SO POOR & NEEDFUL! YOURS IN THAT MEMORY — RAY BRADBURY

AUG - 1976

[via Letters of Note]

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From Charles Dickens to George Eliot, 1858

TO GEORGE ELIOT

January 18, 1858, London

My Dear Sir

I have been so strongly affected by the two first tales in the book you have had the kindness to send me through Messrs. Blackwood [Eliot's publisher], that I hope you will excuse my writing to you to express my admiration of their extraordinary merit. The exquisite truth and delicacy, both of the humour and the pathos of those stories, I have never seen the like of; and they have impressed me in a manner that I should find it very difficult to describe to you, if I had the impertinence to try.

In addressing these few words of thankfulness, to the creator of the sad fortunes of Mr. Amos Barton, and the sad love-story of Mr. Gilfil, I am (I presume) bound to adopt the name that it pleases that excellent writer to assume. I can suggest no better one; but I should have been strongly disposed, if I had been left to my own devices, to address the said writer as a woman. I have observed what seem to me to be such womanly touches, in those moving fictions, that the assurance on the title-page is insufficient to satisfy me, even now. If they originated with no woman, I believe that no man ever before had the art of making himself, mentally, so like a woman, since the world began.

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Emily Temple is an editor at Flavorpill.

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