Literary Birthday – 14 June – Vivian Gornick

Happy Birthday, Vivian Gornick, born 14 June 1935.


  1. That’s the hardest thing to do-to stay with a sentence until it has said what it should say, and then to know when that has been accomplished.
  2. A serious life, by definition, is a life one reflects on, a life one tries to make sense of and bear witness to. Truth in a memoir is achieved not through a recital of actual events; it is achieved when the reader comes to believe that the writer is working hard to engage with the experience at hand. What happened to the writer is not what matters; what matters is the large sense that the writer is able to make of what happened.
  3. Writing enters into us when it gives us information about ourselves we are in need of *at the time that we are reading*. How obvious the thought seems once it has been articulated! As with love, politics, or friendship: readiness is all.
  4. Every work [of literature] has both a situation and a story. The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say.
  5. The older I grow, the more I realise how unfit we are for relationships. We are all such antagonists. It’s part of the human condition to be deeply unfaithful to constancy. I do believe that.
  6. What you feel when you’re writing is the relief of thinking: if you write the sentence correctly, you’re clarifying. If you write the right sentence, nothing feels as good.
  7. I don’t write fiction but I do write narrative; I write memoirs that I treat like stories, so whenever I’m using somebody I actually know as a model, I am submitting them to the agenda of a storyteller, and I feel free to do what I want.
  8. Scientists do what writers do. They also live with an active interiority, only the ongoing speculation in their heads is about relations in the physical world rather than the psychological one.
  9. The desire for narration keeps on reasserting itself, so that since modernism and fiction brought narration to an end, it is sought in memoirs.

Vivian Gornick is an American critic, journalist, essayist, and memoirist. She is the author of  Fierce Attachments: A Memoir and The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir.

Source for quotes

by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 13th June 2019