The Book That Changed My Life

Philip Schultz

Philip Schultz was a 1979 National Book Award Finalist for Poetry for Like Wings.

Thank you for asking me to contribute to your worthwhile program. I'm honored. When I first began writing a number of books influenced me. I remember looking at a rack of books in a grocery store while waiting for my mother to finish having her hair done in a mall in Rochester, NY. I was seventeen and bored and although I loved J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and a good number of stories by Hemingway, I wasn't yet convinced I'd spend the rest of my life doing anything in particular. Then I came upon Walker Percy's "The Moviegoer" on the rack and the raised circle announcing the fact that it had just won The National Book Award caught my eye. I didn't know what a National Book Award was but it sounded impressive and I fell in love with the voice of the narrator, one Binx Bolling. A certain kind of sadness made sense to my adolescent mind, but it was the tone of the longing of the narrator on his great search for meaning. I wanted to hear a voice like that in myself, to speak out of that great reservoir of feeling.

As a poet, Yehuda Amichai's wonderful book "Poems" made me want to write poetry. I was a graduate student at Iowa, in the fiction department, and a friend gave me the book and I never saw poetry, or fiction for that matter, the same way again. The simplicity of the language and the depth of feeling and natural outpouring of original imagery made me switch over to the poetry department. Later, Isaac Babel, Robert Lowell, George Oppen, Hart Crane, Flannery O'Connor, Theodore Roethke, Rilke, James Wright, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashberry and Mark Strand all continued to convince me poetry was what I had to do, like it or not. There are and have been many others but these are a few writers that changed my life.

Sincerely yours,

Philip Schultz