Matters Literary: Michael Chabon, Oakley Hall, & Oscar Villalon
Recently I posted about Michael Chabon, who read from his new book, Maps & Legends, at Stacey’s last Wednesday. During the Q&A session afterwards, he talked about how — before he moved to an unspecified house on 29th Street, between Noe and Sanchez — he studied writing under the guidance of the late Oakley Hall. (The obituary is here.)
I’d never heard of him, but Chabon attested to his influence as a teacher with an entertaining anecdote. It seems that without Hall, we might not have The Mysteries of Pittsburg as we know it. Hall eviscerated the first draft by the 23-year-old aspiring novelist; in a kind, gentle fashion, but still. “He pointed out that basically, my character just went from one party to another without anything else really happening,” Chabon said, “and that in each chapter, one or two new characters were introduced, with which nothing was subsequently done by the author.” But most importantly, Hall pointed out a line where Chabon had described a character as looking like a gangster.
So Hall asked: “Well, is he a gangster, then?”
Chabon: “Um. No.”
“Oh. That would have been interesting.”
And then Hall changed the subject. Of course, Chabon decided to run with that “disappointed suggestion” when he started over. And without it, it just wouldn’t be the book that launched his career.
Anyway, check out this fascinating appreciation of Hall, written by Oscar Villalon, the Books editor of the Chronicle. Hall seems to have been quite a significant force in making San Francisco such a literary town.
And of course, now I’ve got yet another novel to add to my reading list.