Shirley Hazzard

In the first months of 1947, the writer Shirley Hazzard, then sixteen, sailed into Kure, Japan, the port of Hiroshima. The arrival proved indelible. She would later write, “You could just see an arc of coastal shapes, far out from ruined docks, hills with rare lights and a black calligraphy of trees fringing the silhouette of steep islands.” The lines are from her novel The Great Fire, which won the 2003 National Book Award. Much earlier in her career, her first two books, a story collection, Cliffs of Fall (1963), and a novella, The Evening of the Holiday (1966), had been published almost in their entirety in The New Yorker. William Maxwell, one of the magazine’s longtime fiction editors, remembered receiving Hazzard’s first story with a little note inside indicating that there was no need to return the manuscript if it was unacceptable for publication. The story “was an astonishment to the editors because it was the work of a finished literary artist about whom they knew nothing whatever,” Maxwell recalled. He and Hazzard became close friends, but he never discovered how she learned to write. “She must have gone through a period of apprenticeship of one kind or another, but under whose eyes?”

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