Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-2

The compilation and editing of a volume such as this requires many hands, many eyes, and many resources; I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to acknowledge the assistance of the numerous persons who made this book a reality. I would first like to thank the University of Missouri Research Board for its generous support. The volume would not exist without the patient guidance and support of Tanya Berezin, the executor of the Lanford Wilson Estate, who provided insight and thoughtful stewardship, preserving the integrity and...

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Introduction

David A. Crespy

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pp. 3-26

This selection of early short stories and poetry by Lanford Wilson, never before published, chronicles the exceptional development of a young writer discovering his language, the tales and characters he would come back to again and again, and perhaps most importantly, the progression of his craft as a storyteller and lyric dramatist. The writings here reveal Wilson’s ability to find the universal in the particular, the lyric quality of human speech, and the haunting American landscape of lives led nearly invisibly at the edge of societal...

Section 1: Six Stories

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pp. 27-28

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A Section of Orange

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pp. 29-34

After Sunday school Little Kirk wandered along the sidewalk looking at the tulips budding in Mrs. Farthing’s yard and the strange bush that spread its thin brown arms bowed by the weight of a thousand yellow stars across the steps to her front porch. Mr. Farthing was at the side of the yard on his knees snipping at the grass struggling to grow up beside the foundation of the house just out of the lawnmower’s reach. Little Kirk stopped for a moment and gazed at the yellow bush by the porch. Perhaps he was thinking how they would look...

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Goodbye Sparta

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pp. 35-42

This story is made up. There’s not a word of it the real truth, but it’s written like it happened to me. I was eighteen, that much is true, but the rest is made up.
I couldn’t wait to get out of high school and get out of town. I was living in a place called Sparta, Arkansas, so I guess I won’t have to explain that. One thing I will say and say truthfully, I’ve never been sorry that I left. I guess I could have come to some place a little bit nicer than Chicago, but I’ve never...

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Miss Misty

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pp. 43-50

You don’t know Miss Misty; you think you do, but you don’t. Picture the loveliest face, the most luscious tan and perfect figure you’ve ever seen. Picture it on a boy six feet tall with artificially platinum hair. Picture the wildest, most constant and satirical characterization of the female; the animation and charm of four starlets rolled into one startling queen: Miss Misty is almost internationally famous. I didn’t know her myself until one day last summer. Sitting one Sunday on Oak Street Beach (Chicago) I met him, but you can’t say him,...

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The Beautiful Children

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pp. 51-58

My grandmother takes a good deal of pride in keeping up a fairly lively correspondence with each of her nine grandchildren. At least once, more often twice, a month her letter, penned in a labored steady hand, chronicles the local scene. Old Mrs. Goldie Winrod, I’ve learned, is fading fast. She has been in the hospital for seven weeks; the congregation prays for her each Sunday. The First Baptist Church downtown has a new pastor. Grandmother hasn’t been there for six years but still she keeps abreast of its functions (The congregation that...

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The Polar Bear

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pp. 59-78

From the roof of the building Joel could survey the whole kingdom of what was now his neighborhood. It was noisier, busier and seemed both exciting and frightening. From the roof, which was high-guarded by an ancient bronze ornamentation, he could launch paper airplane-things that Loren had learned to make in school (not in class, for they had been forbidden to litter the schoolground with them, but from another student who had been expelled for a week having been found folding one at his desk made from the girl across...

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The Canary (A Fairy Tale)

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pp. 79-84

Once, not too very long ago, but in a place very far away; far away on the moors and remote from surrounding villages, there was a town named Blue Willow. Perhaps the town exists today if you look for it closely. It was a very somnolent place that basked in sunshine all summer; and in winter, they say, a soft gray-blue smoke arose straight up from the many chimneys and lingered high over Blue Willow in one long amethyst cloud. And the town smelled of biscuits and cakes in the winter....

Section 2: Travels to and from the City

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pp. 85-86

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The Train to Washington

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pp. 87-94

I think what bothered me most about Irene was that she was always calling her son a little son-of-a-bitch. Irene and I were never anything much more than friends, and after the fight at the Oyster Bar, I started coming in earlier in the afternoon when she would be asleep upstairs and Eddie was still in school.
I had first gone to the bar when I moved into the building next door. My apartment was a one-room, one-window affair four flights up: a very small,...

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The Water Commissioner

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pp. 95-106

A few weeks back the late show was The Farmer Takes a Wife. I didn’t stay up to see it, but I noticed an advertisement in the newspaper; the photograph was familiar. I don’t often remember old movies. I’ll watch an hour and gradually realize where I first saw it. And I don’t remember any more about The Farmer Takes a Wife except that I saw the movie at the Ambassador Theatre in St. Louis.
It was my first trip to the city; I had only just graduated from high school in a small town a few hundred miles southwest of St. Louis. I rode to St. Louis in a...

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Fish Kite

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pp. 107-146

Shelton leaned back now into the itchy gray upholstery of the car seat and closed his eyes: the fabric felt and smelled of carpet, and when they had first pulled away from Springfield he had delivered a hearty slap against its bristly nap to exclaim an excited: “Boy! On our way!” It had responded with a barrage of dust so stifling all the windows in the old Chevrolet had to be opened, or opened as much as they could, for the first twenty miles. The negative imprint of his hand remained, a leaf pattern on the yellow-gray fabric, and a fine layer...

Section 3. Sketches of Town Life

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pp. 147-148

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The Rimers of Eldritch

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pp. 149-152

No one was much surprised when Eve Johnson died, they had never expected her to live in the first place: a girl as sickly as Eve could never bear children, her own mother had passed on giving birth to Eve. When it was discovered Eve was pregnant everyone sighed, shook their heads and waited out the end. There was nothing much to think about it either way; since she had not been married they would have enjoyed thinking the devil had had his say in the matter and claimed his own, but it was difficult to believe the devil could use Eve once he...

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Green Grow the Rushes

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pp. 153-162

The days immediately following the flood were very warm—a thick sweet atmosphere clung to the valley in a vapid attempt at recompense. Lon sat by the bridge that spans the mill pond and watched the sediment settle to the bottom of the river as it cleared. He perched high on the rocks beside the highway and peered down into the wavering reflections. One leg tucked tightly against his chest, both long thin arms doubled around it. His chin rested on the pointed knee, the other leg dangled in an insouciant manner above the...

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Chalk Eye

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pp. 163-168

It was conceivable that I should get a job with them. The campaign, the real heat of the campaign hadn’t begun. At the time I didn’t know who headed the planning; but it didn’t really matter. I was asked to wait in the anteroom. Someone will see you presently, the receptionist murmured, and I waited with several others in fat leather chairs along the opposite side of the room. Someone else came to the desk and spoke to her. “Oh, sir,” she called to me, “were you waiting for Mr. Carson?” “Does he do the hiring?” I asked. The woman...

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Drift

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pp. 169-170

Toward the end of October but with April eyes he came here; never going into town but stopping at the group of buildings on the hill above, looking for a moment to the neon red above Hilltop Café before he entered. From the south up Route Sixty-five he had hitchhiked without even a change of clothes. He was young, maybe eighteen, with fine sandy hair that fell across his face across gray eyes.
Roslyn took him in. Took him in and as chance handled it his name was Buddy. Roslyn who had been left the café when her husband, Bud, walked off;...

Section 4: Sketches of City Life

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pp. 171-172

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Mama

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pp. 173-176

From the window of my apartment I can look out to the house next door. Perhaps three feet has been maintained between the buildings for an air shaft; and during the summer days when the rooms begin to become insufferable all the sounds of the building across the way come through my open window. Directly across from my window is the room of a character I had seen before a number of times in the neighborhood. Not being one to especially notice individuals, no one, nevertheless, could avoid some shock at meeting him on...

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Fuzz on Orion’s Sword

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pp. 177-192

It was after eleven when the 8:10 train arrived from Boston. For a long while Leonard studied the blackboard: there was a desk raised like a lower-court judge’s platform with a large schedule of arrivals and departures on the wall behind. A man totally unconcerned with the progress or tardiness of his trains wandered from side to side of the board, chalking new times in the squares. The 8:10 was erased, slowed down, three times. Leonard imagined the train’s progress as if following a player once around a Monopoly board: Move...

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Uptown in Snow

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pp. 193-196

The noises of the office were coming back: the rapid staccato snapping of a dozen typewriters keyed in various stiff-pitched monotones; a dozen carriage return bells, now synchronized, now in quick succession, a dozen single notes from all sides of the room. The girls flitted about the room; to the filing cabinets, their heels clicking on the tile floors, to their desks, to the water cooler, in and out of the office, slamming doors and the metal drawers of cabinets; up to her desk that faced the room like an instructor’s desk faces the class. The voices...

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Dear Mr. Goldberg

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pp. 197-200

The man behind the desk lit a fresh cigarette and pushed his glasses back along the sharp bridge of his nose. “Naturally, we’re interested in interviewing every possible candidate for the position we have in mind,” he began. “It might prevent me repeating things you know about our company if you tell me, more or less, what the employment agency has already told you.” The man behind the desk glanced casually at his secretary through the glass. The girl smiled slightly and turned away. “I have your resume but as the agency saw fit to call...

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Doors

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pp. 201-204

It was late into the afternoon by the time I came to the last apartment on the list. I had been weaving in and out of a six-block area since early morning and would have called it a day had the Windsor Apartments not been on the way to the subway station. The building smelled faintly of disinfectant, but that was better than some I had visited that day. A woman straightened from mopping the marble-tile floor as I came in. “Is the manager of the building in?” I asked.
“You’re talking to her, Mrs. Cora Bloom, Apartment One-A; are you single?”...

Section 5: Poems

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pp. 205-206

Outside Tulsa

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p. 207

Mountains

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pp. 208-209

Orange Grove

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p. 210

Flower Box

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p. 211

Marigold

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pp. 212-213

Oakwood Gothic

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p. 214

[Well, there she is, after all]

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p. 215

Cathedral of St. Paul

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p. 216

The Street Artist

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p. 217

Village Walking Rhyme

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p. 218

On a Day of Crisis

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p. 219

[Fifth Avenue was quiet]

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pp. 220-221

Winter

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p. 222

So the Sky

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p. 223

Lullaby

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p. 224

Lullaby (2)

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p. 225

[If yours cannot be]

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p. 226

I Saw All the Workers in the Field at Noon

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pp. 227-228

Why When I Love You

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pp. 229-232

Notes on a Poem for Bill

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pp. 233-234

Noel

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pp. 235-236

[The great-hearted dean]

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p. 237

A Love Story about the Next Best Thing

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pp. 238-240

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Afterword

Marshall W. Mason

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pp. 241-244

In his plays, Lanford Wilson celebrated the spirit of America more eloquently than anyone of his generation. Frank Rich, chief theatre critic of The New York Times, described him as a writer “who can truly make America sing.” Lanford’s special gift in describing the times in which he lived had several components: complicated, deeply rooted and driven characters; groundbreaking innovations in dramatic structure and style; and, perhaps most of all, his ability to write dialogue that was at once everyday speech, tailored uniquely...

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Editorial Note

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pp. 245-251

The stories, sketches, and poetry published in this volume may be found in the Lanford Wilson Collection at the University of Missouri Libraries’ Special Collections and Rare Books division in Box 9 of Series Three—Works and Manuscripts, Sub-Series One—Prose and Poetry. The folders discussed in this note include file folders (FF) 17–18, which include all the poetry in the collection, and FF 19–55, which include all the short stories. These notes will follow the organization of the work in this volume. Unless noted, all the stories and poetry are undated....