|Diane Ackerman and Paul West at home in Ithaca, NY, 2013|
BORN IN AN ENGLISH VILLAGE, in the shadow of Sherwood Forest and the Sitwells, Paul West has lived in Ithaca for over thirty years.
“I am a country boy, born and bred,” he says. “I like trees and lawns, animals and huge silence.”
He seems to have spent most of his time here writing in the lamp-lit hours of deep night, while the rest of us mortals slept, because he somehow managed to write nearly 50 books, most of them novels that are wantonly stylish, wickedly imaginative, and often tackle how Good tilts with Evil in the world, while also being irreverently funny.
When not writing, he would bask in every drop of sunshine, listening to classical music, or swimming—sometimes simultaneously—until he turned the color of teak. Although he’d painted and done collage when he was a student at Oxford, afterwards he poured his creativity into writing, and he really hadn’t touched a brush in 50 years.
Then one night out of the polychrome blue, at the age of 82, after two strokes had confined him to a wheelchair, he woke at 1:00AM, climbed out of bed, found a set of old watercolors, and painted all night long. The same thing happened the following night, and every night since. By now he’s amassed hundreds of artworks—watercolor and mixed media—all created with his left hand and abundant joy, in night owl flights of imagination. His work is tender, provocative, and funny.
West’s most recent novel, The Invisible Riviera, is published by Onager Editions. The book's cover features one of Paul's water colors. A chapter excerpt from this book can be found in the February 2013 postings of this blog. See the sidebar to your right.
West has been the recipient of numerous prizes and awards, including the Aga Khan Prize, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, the Hazlett Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Literature Award from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a Lannan Prize for Fiction, the Grand-Prix Halperine Kaminsky Award. He has been named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library, and a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government, and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
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