Jean Shepherd: Latter-day Twain?
Wednesday - February 4, 1976
Last Update: 04-07-2019
This may come as a shock to those of you are Jean Shepherd fans, but Wanda Hickey never really had a night of golden memories.
And Flick does not live. Nor does Schwartz.
"They're not characters I've known; they're characters we've all known," said Shepherd, who was visiting from New York City yesterday to give a lecture at the University of Rochester.
The 46-year-old author-humorist relaxed among an informal group of students in the afternoon and explained why some of his characters and Situations have been taken literally by so many people.
"I WRITE ABOUT rituals and rituals don't change," he said. "We all go through the same ones."
One of his most familiar rituals is the junior prom which introduces Wanda and Schwartz in "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories," a short story that became the title of his best-selling book.
Not only as the story contrived, Shepherd said, but he didn't even go to his own prom some 30 years ago.
"THERE WERE TWO kinds or guys in my high school, jocks and those who went to proms. I was a jock."
Shepherd, who may be as well known for his television show "Jean Shepherd's America" as he is for his writing, said he discovered Wanda Hickey while walking through the streets of New York City late one June night several years ago.
"It was raining like hell," he recalls . . . and I saw this couple coming home from their prom. He was all dressed up in his tux and she had this nice gown on and they were going through all this mess. I figured they'd really be talking about it in a couple of years and saying what a great time they had."
THAT THOUGHT led Shepherd to write the "golden memories" story and it's a theme that occurs through much of his writing.
"If you're supposed to have a ritualistic good time," he says, "you're going to have a ritualistic good time. It's like the Super Bowl. It's become a ritual to buy tickets to it and you can be sitting there thinking 'this is dull,' but you're not going to admit it."
Shepherd has a nightly radio program in New York City and writes regularly for such publications as Car & Driver, Playboy and Harper's.
His humor has been compared with that of Mark Twain, an association he does not discourage.
"You never see my name listed among fiction writers because I'm too real, " he said. "Mark Twain was like that. When he was 70, people came up and said 'Have you seen Tom lately?' People ask me the same thing of Schwartz."
SHEPHERD'S SHORT STORIES were too real for his own good, it seems. When "Wanda Hickey" was published as a book in 1970, it climbed as high as third on the New York Times best-seller list. But as non-fiction rather than fiction.
"They had me in there with diet books and everything," he said. ''I called the book editor and we got into a big argument about it. He said they were true stories and he finally got mad and took me off the list altogether."
Shepherd says there are two kinds of writers in fiction today: Those who write about themselves and their own unique experiences (such as Philip Roth); and those who write about all of us, a group he puts himself in.
"The essence of being a human being is sharing everything with all other human beings," he said. "The artist is one that recognizes it." ||
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