Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Late Harold Pinter, a Personal Note

Harold Pinter has died. He was my first real influence as a writer. I'd been writing before I read him or saw one of his plays staged, but it was with my reading of "The Birthday Party" in my second semester of college that something clicked. The professor was a pompous jerk, as were many of my English professors at Brooklyn College, but he did introduce me to this great writer at the end of the introduction to drama course I took in 1974, when I was 18, and for that I'm eternally grateful, even if I would have eventually found Pinter on my own. When I read this play I realized that it was fully permissible to write what I then considered "weird stuff," that it was permissible to write as I was inclined to write. I became a voracious consumer of Pinter. I read everything in print and went to performances of his plays, including "No Man's Land," in 1977, with Gielgud and Richardson, and a production of "The Birthday Party," in the 'eighties, that featured Jean Stapleton. I was able to quote long stretches of his dialogue. Though I gave up playwriting for fiction toward the end of my college years, Pinter's influence carried over into the moods, rhythms and pacing I favored. I think there's a little Pinter in all the "creative" prose I write.

Many deserving writers have died before they could get the "brass ring," the Nobel Prize, but Pinter got his in 2005. In his Nobel speech he talked a bit about his drama, but for the most part he took the opportunity to lambaste the U.S. for its arrogance and aggression on the international stage.

I'd like to think that in a couple of years from now he'd be delivering a different kind of speech if he were still alive.


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