Emory Report
November 29, 2004
Volume 57, Number 13


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November 29, 2004
Expatriate writer Bowles to be explored in book talk

BY eric rangus

The life of writer and composer Paul Bowles will be explored at a Dec. 2 lecture to be given by author and Georgia State University Emerita Professor Virginia Spencer Carr, author of a new Bowles biography.

Carr, John B. and Elena Diaz-Verson Amos Distinguish-ed Chair in English Letters Emerita at Georgia State, spent more than a decade researching and writing Paul Bowles: A Life and will talk about her experiences writing the book as well as sign copies in the Jones Room of Woodruff Library beginning at 6 p.m. The event, sponsored by Friends of the Emory University Libraries, is free and open to the public.

‘We host a variety of events during the year,” said Friends of the Libraries coordinator Donna Bradley. “We want everyone to know that the library is the hottest place on campus.”

In her book, Carr leaves no stone unturned in her exploration of Bowles, who granted her incredible access and was frank during his many interviews, which included detailed accounts of his many affairs with both women and men during his lifetime.

“He told me everything I wanted to know,” said Carr, who has spoken recently at both the University of Delaware and Villanova University in promoting the book.

Bowles was born in New York in 1910 and studied music under noted 20th century composer Aaron Copeland; the two also were lovers for a time, Carr learned. “I knew at that point I could say anything I wanted in this biography.”

Bowles wrote music for ballet, theater and films before turning to literature. He published The Sheltering Sky his first and best-known work, in 1949. He and his wife, author Jane Auer—who had told him she was a lesbian prior to their marriage—settled in Tangiers, Morocco, around that time, and much of his later writing and musical composition had a North African flavor. He counted a veritable who’s who of 20th century writers—William Burroughs, Tennessee Williams and W. H. Auden, among them—as his friends.

Carr met Bowles while she was working on a biography of Williams. The writer had invited her to his home in Morocco, where he agreed to be interviewed. After Carr spoke with the expatriate author, Gore Vidal—another interview subject for the Williams book—encouraged her to postpone that project and instead write a biography on Bowles. That was 1989.

Carr took Vidal’s advice and eventually traveled 13 times to Morocco, and conducted hundreds of interviews, to piece together Bowles’ story. Throughout the writing process, She and Bowles shared a close relationship. At the age of 88, she delivered his eulogy.

In addition to her exploration of Bowles, Carr has written award-winning biographies of authors Carson McCullers and John Dos Passos. She currently is working on a biography of Eudora Welty as well as a memoir.

Part of the reason Bowles trusted Carr so completely was that he knew McCullers, had read Carr’s biography and was impressed with the author’s treatment of her.

“People who are fans of the authors I write about have written to tell me how much my biographies mean to them,” Carr said. “That’s why I like biography so much.”

Carr earned bachelor’s and doctoral degrees at Florida State University (her master’s is from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill). She chaired Georgia State’s English department from 1985–93 and retired from GSU last year. She taught a range of courses that included the 20th century American novel, American writers and poets from 1912–45, literature of the American South, and studies in biography.