Floyd Skloot, Writer


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Critical Highlights

A feature on his work in the March 2009 issue of Journal of Medical Humanities says: "Floyd Skloot's writing has transformed the genre of creative nonfiction/memoir both because he is a crisp, lyrical, wonderful writer who knows how to narrate and dramatize, move us and make us think, as well as explain issues in neurological research in clear and accessible ways, and because he maps out a new and important territory of writing, that of the neurologically atypical about their own experiences.  Floyd Skloot's writing will be personally meaningful to any of us who wonder about our neurological futures. He is both a compassionate forerunner on a road most of us will travel, and one of the truly exciting new voices on the contemporary literary scene."

Named one of fifty of the most inspiring authors in the world by Poets & Writers, January/February 2010: "Despite virus-induced brain damage, he writes with surprising tenderness and candor about recreating a life for himself and, in the process, makes us think about our own."

"Skloot is one of the most cross-fertilizing sorts of writers in the United States. He writes fiction and journalism, personal essays and memoirs, and poetry. His poems are life affirming and meticulous. He doesn't dismiss emotion, but he finds richness in wonder, in exploration, in a subtle kind of public/private negotiation of the senses. One wants to call his poems elegant in the fashion, say, of Richard Wilbur or Stanley Plumly. But they are less magisterial than that. Instead, they are elegant in the way a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play in baseball is elegant. They're elegant the way a swan dive is elegant. Elegant like a single oboe above bassoons is elegant." –David Biespiel, The Oregonian

"Floyd Skloot has developed into one of the finest essayists we have. His strong, subtle, exquisitely truthful and often very funny writing testifies to an impressive humanity and maturity." –Phillip Lopate

"A master of the genre." –Newsday

"Floyd Skloot is the Willie Mays of memoirists." –San Francisco Chronicle

"I believe that Mr. Skloot is one of the finest lyric poets writing in English today." –Daniel Mark Epstein

"Skloot's is an extraordinary voice that gains in power over time, one that brings us closer to the mysteries that hover beyond the experiences of our daily lives." –Marguerite Guzman Bouvard, Prairie Schooner

"Skloot is such a fine writer that he can - and does - write about eating 'baloney and eggs' and makes it seem fascinating." –Publishers Weekly

"A cool, accomplished essayist." –New York Times Book Review

"Skloot writes with eloquence and humor." –Boston Globe

"He offers spare sentences that evoke a world. Deserves a wide audience." –Kirkus Reviews

"A tribute to the creative spirit." –Washington Post

"A poet of singular skill and subtle intelligence." –Harvard Review

"Skloot's craft is nothing short of masterful." –North American Review

"Floyd Skloot has established his place as one of the nation's premier poets." –Pacific NW Booksellers Association

"Skloot's persona on the page is very human and endearing, worth reading whether you are trying to figure out how to be a writer, or just trying to figure out how to be alive." -Amy Halloran, themilions.com

Introduction to AMERICAN WRITERS 20 discussion of the work and career of Floyd Skloot (2010), written by Ron Slate:

"Biographical accounts of writers, especially living authors, are often woven with foreshortened career narratives created for expediency's sake. Such misleading portraits tend to inflate the significance of life events as the keys to interpreting a lifetime's work. Take the case of Floyd Skloot. The convenient story begins with a business trip he took in December 1988 during which he contracted a rare viral illness. After suffering permanent debilitating brain damage, he struggled to produce The Night-Side, his first book of essays, in 1996. This collection was followed in 2003 by a second book of essays, the acclaimed In the Shadow of Memory. Part autobiography, part medical inquiry, the essays were often slotted into the growing subgenre of illness narratives. The positive tone of the writing leavened by Skloot's humor, seemed to encourage readings emphasizing the invalid's victory over adversity and an advocacy for greater awareness of neurological diseases. Skloot was congratulated more often for his subject matter alone than for what he discovered within it or for the way he styled his writing. As the popularity of illness narratives grew in the early 1990s, newspaper book reviewers avidly covered Skloot's collections, making only passing mention of his poetry or novels.

When we consider the span of Skloot's writing, however, and more closely examine individual works, we may find a more profound continuity in his objectives, themes, and techniques, extending from the first poems he published in magazines in the early 1970s. Furthermore, the arc of his career describes an unhurried ripening of literary skills deployed in ways untypical for his trend-conscious generation. His seven full-length collections of poetry, four books of essays, and four novels together represent a persistent effort to shape a fictive life through literature. Although Skloot has underscored the importance of writing during his partial rehabilitation (he has described this latter period as an awakening) , he did not undertake his essay project or his later poetry as some sort of writing-as-therapy for the stricken author. On the contrary, Skloot has maintained a craftsperson's focus on traditional forms and a plain mode of expression. While his themes have centered on the search for meaning through personal loss, the precision of his formal techniques suggests a compensating capability: to project a shaped world narrated by a stable voice, in and through which both author and reader may experience an evasion of doom. Skloot enacts a revenge on loss by forcing it to change shape in the form of literature. Although his literary voice suggests modesty in its tightly controlled narratives and considerate tones, his aims are highly ambitious because his antagonist has been circumstance itself.

The charming accessibility of Skloot's memoirs tempts the reader to use the life as the prime means of explaining any of Skloot's individual novels, poems, or essays. Certainly the works tell us something about the life, even as we acknowledge the purely literary qualities and value of the writing. In fact, Skloot repeatedly turns our attention to the topic of self-identity, but he treats his own person in the writing as something observed objectively and never elevated importance above anything else in the world. Nevertheless, the moral implications of his work suggest a need to reconstruct one's life in ways that contravene a dangerous and tragic emotional fate. Recuperation from illness and recovery of memory become metaphors for a lifelong desire more fully to experience intimacy with others and to understand oneself. While forming emotional connections with his past, Skloot has willed himself to be the master of those memories and the maker of the links between them.

In a 2008 interview with Publishers Weekly, Skloot said, “The memoirs of illness taught me how to work with fragments of memory and view writing as an act of discovery.” But working from life is always working from shards of memory for every writer. The poet never copies anything except for the residue that remains after looking. In other words, Skloot's thematic emphasis on creative rebirth (and his rejection of heroic exceptionalism for the sick person) speaks to all artistic endeavor hinging on self-knowledge and the discovery of usable form. Coping with illness not only retaught Skloot how to create a vision of life on the page but also heightened the emotional and intellectual impact of the work. The disorientation of the mind, accompanied by a spiritual dread, had represented a threat to his identity-making art. He responded competitively, as if against an insult, and with the need to be assured that pain would not dissolve eloquence and form but rather serve as their occasions. But here again, we risk losing sight of the work itself and its effect on the reader. The maturation of his work through years of unstable health is marked by an ever-engaging narrative voice characterized by a hyper-attentiveness to the world's disclosures. Taking an unstylish stance, Skloot has shown no interest in speaking from an ironic point apart from life. There is a chaste economy in his phrasing. Even in the very early poems, Skloot's narrative speaker has both wept for and been wary of the world's troubles, but he has schooled himself to translate them into the mastered tones of calm candor and an almost pious wonder. Most especially in the essays, he has depicted his childhood self as defenseless and under attack but also uncomplaining and vigilant. Clearly Skloot's persona, his fictive self, seems intent on proving that vulnerability may generate its own kind of spiteless genius.

The novels, poetry, and essays share many materials. The poem “A Hand of Casino, 1954” (in The End of Dreams) led to an essay on family roots, “A World of Light.” The essay “Double Blind” in The Night-Side inspired the novel Patient 002. The novel The Open Door reflects a fictional version of tense family relationships, a prelude to essays in which he explored his own similar background. Each of the genres has played a specific role during Skloot's career, but poetry has been the constant and core medium, even as its preoccupations have evolved. Although he regards himself primarily as a poet, Skloot is one of a very few contemporary American poets who have won followings for both their poetry and autobiographical essays. A strong case may be made for Skloot as the most accomplished personal essayist among all poets of his generation, having been preceded by the example of Donald Hall (b. 1928).

Skloot's development as a writer is idiosyncratic insofar as he abandoned academia and literary studies, was not deeply influenced by modernist poets or novelists (though he is widely read in them), has been published mainly by university and independent presses, and earned his living as

a business manager (before becoming disabled). His novels are no longer in print. A prominent national book reviewer, Skloot has nevertheless written no literary criticism. Yet his reputation as a prize-winning poet and celebrated essayist continues to grow, and his new work appears frequently in magazines and journals."