Reynolds Price was born in 1933 and grew up in North Carolina. In junior high school a teacher recognized his gift for writing and encouraged him to pursue his craft. “From the age of six I wanted to be an artist,” says Price, “At that point I meant a painter, but it turned out what I really meant was I was someone who was very interested in watching the world and making copies of it.” He continued writing as an undergraduate at Duke University and during his senior year he had the great fortune to meet visiting writer Eudora Welty, who read one of his short stories. She was so impressed that she sent the story to her agent, who several years later would publish Price’s first novel, A Long and Happy Life (1961). In 1955, he traveled to Merton College in Oxford, England, where he studied for three years as a Rhodes Scholar. He then returned to North Carolina where he has lived ever since, teaching English at Duke University and writing.
In 1984, Price learned that he had a form of spinal cancer that ultimately left him confined to a wheelchair. The story of his agonizing illness and extraordinary cure is told in his memoir A Whole New Life (1994). The New York Times Book Review remarked, “what is strongest in this book is the delineation of one human’s endurance of disease, the fierce treatments aimed at it and the crippling consequences of both. Writing was his weapon of recovery . . . and as writing came back, his creativity was astonishingly increased.” Since being diagnosed with cancer, Price has remained, against all odds, a remarkably prolific and accomplished writer.
Over his long and distinguished career, Price has written successfully in several genres, with over 30 critically acclaimed books of fiction, poetry, plays, and essays. Price has been a Professor at Duke University since 1958. He teaches one semester a year—a course in writing and a course in literature, usually on Milton. He enjoys receiving “a new bunch of students” every year. “Anne Tyler was in my first writing class,” he recalls. “She was 16 and I was 25. I thought I was going to be that lucky every time!”
Price has received numerous literary honors, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, the William Faulkner Foundation Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his memoir Clear Pictures (1989). He is also a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Price’s book, Feasting the Heart (2000), is a collection of controversial and personal essays, originally broadcast to great acclaim on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. He resides in Durham, North Carolina.
Excerpt from Roxanna Slade (1998)
Everybody said that Betsy Magee had outdone herself on my long dress. I could see it was lovely, and I bowed to Betsy to say as much as I came up the aisle. But I’ve always felt that it outdid me too. I’ve mentioned not considering myself a beauty. And dressed to the nines in solid white, I felt a little like a piece of live bait still twisting on the hook. Take precious me. I look so fine. Even I wasn’t spoiled enough, though, to let it interfere with what I wanted and managed to do in the next few minutes. For the first time in my life to that point, I listened closely to the marriage vows; and they sobered me up considerably (not that I’d drunk a drop of spirits).
Those were times, to be sure, when no normal people had the outright gall to write their own private marriage vows, taking or leaving whatever part of the customary words it suited them to say in the face of God watching and with some long-haired boy strumming his guitar by way of wedding music. Without a trace of visible doubt or silent reservation, I honestly think, Palmer and I said the old hard words. First we said I will when the preacher asked if we’d forsake all others and keep only to each other as long as we both shall live. Then we each recited, like far and away the most urgent speech we’d ever make in life, I take thee to have and to hold from this day forward for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health to love and to cherish till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance.
Long years of time would prove, I think, that we kept our word, give or take short fits of selfishness but no enduring unrepented betrayals so far as I learned. Yet to this very day I don’t understand precisely what I was wondering about at the end of the service when Palmer and I walked down the aisle leaning on each other with me thinking only What were we supposed to mean when we said to have and to hold? What’s the real difference between have and hold? And could I manage my end of that bargain? And what would Palmer Slade have to say on the day of his death about such a promise of having and holding?
Selected WorkRoxanna Slade (1998)The Collected Poems (1997)Three Gospels (1996)A Whole New Life (1994)The Collected Stories (1993)Blue Calhoun (1992)New Music, plays (1990)The Tongues of Angels (1990)Clear Pictures (1989)Kate Vaiden (1986)A Long and Happy Life (1962)