Literary Birthday – 19 June – Tobias Wolff

Happy Birthday, Tobias Wolff, born 19 June 1945.


  1. A true piece of writing is a dangerous thing. It can change your life.
  2. I’ve allowed some of these points to stand, because this is a book of memory, and memory has its own story to tell. But I have done my best to make it tell a truthful story.
  3. Perhaps that is why the novel flourished in England. You had these communities that would stay put and people would see one another all the time and cause one another to change and have the opportunity to observe the changes over time.
  4. Time, which is your enemy in almost everything in this life, is your friend in writing.
  5. There are very few professions in which people just sit down and think hard for five or six hours a day all by themselves. Of course it’s why you want to become a writer — because you have the liberty to do that, but once you have the liberty you also have the obligation to do it.
  6. Rhyme is bullshit. Rhyme says that everything works out in the end. All harmony and order. When I see a rhyme in a poem, I know I’m being lied to. Go ahead, laugh! It’s true—rhyme’s a completely bankrupt device. It’s just wishful thinking. Nostalgia.
  7. I believe that the short story is as different a form from the novel as poetry is, and the best stories seem to me to be perhaps closer in spirit to poetry than to novels.
  8. There’s a joy in writing short stories, a wonderful sense of reward when you pull certain things off.
  9. In writing you work toward a result you won’t see for years, and can’t be sure you’ll ever see. It takes stamina and self-mastery and faith. It demands those things of you, then gives them back with a little extra, a surprise to keep you coming. It toughens you and clears your head. I could feel it happening. I was saving my life with every word I wrote, and I knew it.
  10. There’s no right way to tell all stories, only the right way to tell a particular story.

Tobias Wolff is an American author. He is known for his memoirs, particularly This Boy’s Life, and his short stories. He has also written two novels. Old School Reader’s Guide was a PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist and won the Northern California Book Award in Fiction.

Source for photograph: By Mark Coggins from San Francisco – Tobias Wolff, CC BY 2.0,

Amanda Patterson

by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 19th June 2014