Writers who go missing

Robert McCrum tracks down Desmond Hogan, an Irish writer whose early work was lauded by writers like Ted Hughes and Kazuo Ishiguro. Once represented by the same agent who handled Salman Rushdie, Iain McEwan, and Peter Carey, Hogan dropped out of view some years ago, seeking solitude and travelers’ stories, and publishing nothing.

But unlike many other writers who’ve “gone missing,” as McCrum puts it, Hogan has continued to write. The Guardian offers a brief selection from his forthcoming short story collection.

McCrum briefly recalls other “authors who burnt bright,” including Dow Mossman and, among others:

  • Harper Lee*
    Following To Kill a Mocking Bird (1961) Lee has published three essays and a brief foreword to the 35th anniversary edition of her masterpiece. This foreword, it was later claimed, had been extracted from a letter she wrote to her agent informing him that she had no intention of writing one.
  • John Kennedy Toole
    Walker Percy hoped to have only to read the first few pages of a manuscript a woman gave him, written by her dead son, but found he couldn’t stop. Toole killed himself in 1969. A Confederacy of Dunces (1980), about an impossible genius struggling with the modern world, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

* Dave Lull notes in email that Harper Lee also wrote an open letter in 2002 for Duluth, Minnesota’s “One Book Reading Promotion Project” involving To Kill a Mockingbird:

In these barbaric times what could be a more civilized adventure than for one city’s people to come together to read one book at the same time? A journey on which the travelers bring cultural baggage–background, experience, even language; an adventure of opinion, critical assessment, perhaps even enjoyment!

What awaits them at the end? If they have discovered nothing new about literature as a mirror to life, they may by their shared experience have learned new things about themselves and about each other, discoveries that make for lasting good will.

Sincerely yours,

Harper Lee


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