“There is no greater mystery than the people we are closest to,” said Alexandra Styron, daughter of William Styron, Friday at the Key West Literary Seminar 2013’s panel “Writing About Those We Have Loved.” “What do we know about our parents or our own children even?” she asked of her panel-mate Joyce Johnson, who was the paramour of Jack Kerouac in the late 1950s, just as On The Road was released.
In one of the only panels that dealt with memoir-based biography, the women discussed one of the great contentions of their genre: that it is hard to see those closest to them subjectively.
Both women had tried to write about their famous intimates earlier in life with little success. They agreed that putting time between the events and their perception of them was essential. Johnson noted that legions of books had been written about Kerouac but, “There was this legend out there and then there was this real person, I wanted to close that gap.”
About waiting many decades to write their respective books:
Styron: “I don’t think I could have written this book any younger.”
Johnson: “It would have been a different book.”
Styron: “And less compassionate.”