Reading My Father
In Reading My Father, William Styron’s youngest child explores the life of a fascinating and difficult man whose own memoir, Darkness Visible, so searingly chronicled his battle with major depression. Alexandra Styron’s parents—the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Sophie’s Choice and his political activist wife, Rose—were, for half a century, leading players on the world’s cultural stage. Alexandra was raised under both the halo of her father’s brilliance and the long shadow of his troubled mind.
A drinker, a carouser, and above all “a high priest at the altar of fiction,” Styron helped define the concept of The Big Male Writer that gave so much of twentieth-century American fiction a muscular, glamorous aura. In constant pursuit of The Great Novel, he and his work were the dominant force in his family’s life, his turbulent moods the weather in their ecosystem.
From Styron’s Tidewater, Virginia, youth and precocious literary debut to the triumphs of his best-known books and on through his spiral into depression, Reading My Father portrays the epic sweep of an American artist’s life, offering a ringside seat on a great literary generation’s friendships and their dramas. It is also a tale of filial love, beautifully written, with humor, compassion, and grace.
The Daughter of Sophie's Choice Author On Her Father
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WE BURIED MY father on a remarkably mild morning in November 2006. From our family’s house on Martha’s Vineyard to the small graveyard is less than a quarter mile, so we walked along the road, where, it being off-season, not a single car disturbed our quiet formation. Beneath the shade of a tall pin oak, we gathered around the grave site. Joining us were a dozen or so of my parents’ closest friends. The ceremony had been planned the way we thought he’d have liked it—short on pomp, and shorter still on religion. A couple of people spoke; my father’s friend Peter Matthiessen, a Zen priest,... see more
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Reading Group Guide
Written with astonishing grace and generosity, Alexandra Styron’s Reading My Father, is a moving and illuminating portrait of a great twentieth century novelist and a deeply troubled man.
William Styron's writing and his depression dominated the Styron family landscape, and Alexandra, the youngest of four children, learned to navigate his storms in order to survive. Spanning from Styron’s Tidewater, Virginia youth and precocious literary debut to the triumphs of his best known books and on through his devastating spiral into madness, Reading My Father chronicles the epic sweep of a American artist’s life, while also telling the story of a daughter coming to know her father at last.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- Consider Alexandra’s place in the Styron family as the youngest child. Could any of her older siblings have written this particular memoir? Or do you think Alexandra witnessed a different side of her parents?