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Trillin Essays

Calvin Trillin

Trillin in 2011

BornCalvin Marshall Trillin
(1935-12-05) December 5, 1935 (age 82)
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
Alma materYale University (B.A., 1957)
Spouse(s)Alice Stewart Trillin (m. 1965; died (her death) 2001)
Awards2013, Thurber Prize for American Humor

Calvin Marshall Trillin (born 5 December 1935) is an American journalist, humorist, food writer, poet, memoirist and novelist.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Calvin Trillin was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1935 to Edythe and Abe Trillin.[2] In his book, Messages from My Father, he said his parents called him "Buddy".[3] He attended public schools in Kansas City and went on to Yale University, where he was the roommate and friend of Peter M. Wolf, (for whose 2013 memoir, My New Orleans, Gone Away, he wrote a humorous foreword) and where he served as chairman of the Yale Daily News and was a member of the Pundits and Scroll and Key before graduating in 1957;[4] he later served as a Fellow of the University.


After a stint in the U.S. Army, he worked as a reporter for Time magazine before joining the staff of The New Yorker in 1963.[5] His reporting for The New Yorker on the racial integration of the University of Georgia was published in his first book, An Education in Georgia. He wrote the magazine's U.S. Journal series from 1967 to 1982, covering local events both serious and quirky throughout the United States.

He has also written for The Nation magazine. He began in 1978 with a column called Variations, which was eventually renamed Uncivil Liberties and ran through 1985. The same name – Uncivil Liberties – was used for the column when it was syndicated weekly in newspapers, from 1986 to 1995. Essentially the same column then ran without a name in Time magazine from 1996 to 2001. His humor columns for The Nation often made fun of the editor of the time, Victor Navasky, whom he jokingly referred to as the wily and parsimonious Navasky. (He once wrote that the magazine paid "in the high two figures.") From the July 2, 1990, issue of The Nation to today, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column – humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces than any other person for The Nation.

Family, travel and food are also themes in Trillin's work. Three of his books--American Fried;Alice, Let's Eat; and Third Helpings—were individually published and are also collected in the 1994 compendium The Tummy Trilogy. The most autobiographical of his works are Messages from My Father, Family Man, and an essay in the March 27, 2006, New Yorker, "Alice, Off the Page", discussing his late wife. A slightly expanded version of the latter essay, entitled About Alice, was published as a book on December 26, 2006. In Messages from My Father, Trillin recounts how his father always expected his son to be a Jew, but had primarily "raised me to be an American".[6]

He has also written a collection of short stories – Barnett Frummer Is An Unbloomed Flower (1969) – and three comic novels, Runestruck (1977), Floater (1980), and Tepper Isn’t Going Out (2001). This last novel is about a man who enjoys parking in New York City for its own sake and is unusual among novels for exploring the subject of parking.

In 2008, The Library of America selected the essay Stranger with a Camera for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime.

In 2012, he was awarded the Thurber Prize for American Humor for Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff, published by Random House. In 2013, he was inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame.

Personal life[edit]

In 1965, he married the educator and writer Alice Stewart Trillin, with whom he had two daughters. Alice died in 2001. He also has four grandchildren. Trillin lives in the Greenwich Village area of New York City.


Main article: Calvin Trillin bibliography


External links[edit]

  1. ^"Calvin Trillin". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved March 10, 2017. 
  2. ^"My Favorite Things: Calvin Trillin". Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  3. ^Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (June 6, 1996). "A Father as Drum Major For His Son's America". The New York Times. 
  4. ^The Yale Banner, History of the Class of 1957.
  5. ^"Contributors – Calvin Trillin". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved March 10, 2017. 
  6. ^Trillin, Calvin. Messages from My Father, p. 101. Macmillan Publishers, 1997. ISBN 0-374-52508-0. Accessed August 31, 2011. ""My father took it for granted that I would always be Jewish, whatever the background of the person I married. On the other hand, he didn't exactly raise me to be a Jew; he raised me to be an American."

I was on the subway, watching a teenager text on his smartphone, when I realized that the idiom “all thumbs” might be doomed. I’ve had any number of such moments — what some people would call “ah-ha” moments — on the subway lately. A day or so before the “all thumbs” revelation, I was reminded once again that I am what used to be called “getting on in years”: I was standing in a crowded car when my eye happened to catch the eye of an attractive young woman who was seated in front of me. She smiled. I smiled. I was on my way to thinking that maybe she had me confused with George Clooney — a mix-up that, I’ll admit, does not occur on a regular basis. Then she smiled again, and offered me her seat.

My contemplation of the future of “all thumbs” came to me on the No. 1 uptown local. The train was crowded, but I had a seat. I was the only person in the car who was reading a newspaper rather than staring at a small electronic device — a singularity that should have provided another hint about where I fit in demographically these days. I happened to be reading an article about the possibility that real estate in Manhattan will eventually become so expensive that only rich people can live there. If so, I wondered, will the phrase “inner city” no longer be a euphemism for a place where poor people live? I could envision advertisements with headlines like “Luxury Inner City Building — Co-ops Starting at $4 Million.” I could envision a gossip columnist writing, “The gala drew a glitzy, moneyed crowd from the inner city.”

Then I noticed the teenager, who was sitting across from me, texting with blinding speed. As his thumbs danced over the tiny screen, I realized that “all thumbs” cannot much longer mean clumsy with one’s hands. And I realized how much I’m going to miss it. It has always seemed to me a way of noting a deficit without being vicious about it — a description of the bumbling sitcom dad who tries to fiddle with a circuit breaker and plunges the entire house into darkness. But how can that man be labeled all thumbs if the teenager sitting across from me can use his thumbs on his smartphone fast enough to take dictation from a cattle auctioneer?

As we rattled up the West Side, I tried to think comforting thoughts. For instance, I told myself, we continued to say, “He was hoisted by his own petard,” long after anybody actually knew what a petard looked like. But by the time the No. 1 had reached 59th Street, I had started to worry about the idiom “sounds like a broken record,” referring to someone who starts talking about a single subject — his thickheaded boss, say, or the route he always takes to Woodside, Queens, when he visits his shiftless brother — and doesn’t stop until his family and friends have fled the premises.

Being old enough to read newspapers on subways, I do own some vinyl records; they’re in the cabinet, behind the cassette tapes of Frank Sinatra that I used to sing along to while I was driving. (Not to boast, but the Chairman and I happen to sing in the same key.) I know what happens when the needle gets stuck on a vinyl record. But how about that teenager I had observed texting at court-reporter speed with his thumbs? How about his children? When they are teenagers, they might never have seen a record. Their only familiarity with a broken record might be something like a record that is broken in the 100-yard dash. What does a broken record in the 100-yard dash sound like? How about a broken record in a burrito-eating competition?

Just before we reached 86th Street, I looked at my watch. Then I began to wonder whether I might be the only person in the car who told time by looking at a watch as opposed to reading the time digitally on a small device. It was a warm autumn day, and a number of people were in short-sleeves. From what I could see, almost none of them wore a wristwatch. That got me to thinking about “counterclockwise.” When all of the analog watches and clocks are gone, will there be generations of people who don’t know what it means when the instructions say, “Turn the bolt counterclockwise”? Even now, with my watch visible on my wrist, I sometimes turn the bolt in the wrong direction. (All right. If you must know: I’ve often been described as “all thumbs.”)

At the 86th Street stop, a gray-haired gentleman entered the car and, locking his arm around one of the vertical poles, unfolded The New York Times. I noticed that he was wearing a wristwatch. Catching his eye as he held out the paper to turn a page, I nodded. He nodded. I nodded again and offered him my seat.

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