Fitzgerald in Saint Paul: a vignette
A Personal Reflection by Garrison Keillor
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD was a man of New York, of Paris, of Hollywood, but his first home is Saint Paul, where he was born on September 24, 1896. His great ambitions began here, his themes, his readiness for romance and, at the crucial moment of his life, the summer of 1919, he came home to become a writer.
His novel had been rejected, he hated his job as an advertising writer, and Zelda Sayre of Montgomery, Alabama, had broken off their engagement because she thought he had no prospects, so he came back to the third-floor bedroom in his parents' row house on Summit Avenue, where he rewrote the novel and mailed it to Maxwell Perkins at Scribner's. Two weeks passed. "Then the postman rang, and that day I quit work and ran along the streets, stopping automobiles to tell friends and acquaintances about it my novel This Side of Paradise was accepted for publication. That week the postman rang and rang, and I paid off my terrible small debts, bought a suit, and woke up every morning with a world of ineffable toploftiness and promise."
His Saint Paul story remains with us: the young man waiting anxiously in his parents' guest room for the bell to ring that signals sweet success and the beginning of a life he had only known in dreams.
I came across F. Scott Fitzgerald's stories in the Anoka library when I was 14, and devoured them, fascinated that the man who wrote them was a Minnesotan, a Saint Paul boy, who had lived through our winters and summers, walked the same streets, watched the Mississippi flow by, and looked at the golden horses on the capitol dome. He was, and still is, a hero of mine. So I'm glad to be on the committee planning his centenary, and especially glad that it includes a day for high school students to come downtown and meet some writers. I remember how much it meant to me, a few years after I discovered Fitzgerald, to be chosen by an English teacher to come to a high school journalism conference in Minneapolis and hang out with other writers my age. I was tall, thin as a rail, painfully shy, wore nerdy clothes and glasses, wrote like crazy, and that little trip from Anoka to Minneapolis was such a blessing. I don't recall anything anybody said at the conference. What I remember is the sheer honor of it and the pleasure of discovering that, if you care about writing, you're not alone, there are others.
Come help us celebrate Fitzgerald, and if you haven't read him for awhile, take a look. He's good.
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