Novelist William Clark Styron (1925-2006) was born on this day in Newport News, Virginia and his family's Southern roots could be traced back to the 1600s. An only child, his mother died of cancer when he was 13.
"Writers ever since writing began have had problems, and the main problem narrows down to just one wordlife," he once said.
Early on, his passion for writing was fueled by the work of William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe. "I gobbled it all up, hurting my eyes, digesting the entire Wolfe oeuvre in something less than two weeks," Styron said.
He studied at Duke University, served as a Marine in World War II, then earned critical acclaim with his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness (1951). "A great book," he said, "should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it."
Committed to civil rights and inspired by his friend James Baldwin, Styron wrote Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), a controversial tale of a black slave's rebellion that won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Sophie's Choice, the story of a tortured Holocaust survivor was published on this day in 1979 and adapted into an unforgettable film with Meryl Streep.
Despite a life-long battle with depression, Styron wrote with deliberation with themes of redemption. He wrote slowly, in longhand, using a number 2 pencil on yellow lined legal pad with what he called a "need to be perfect each paragraph each sentence, even as I go along.
Writer Norman Mailer said of Styron's work: No other American writer of my generation has had so omnipresent and exquisite a sense of the elegiac.
Work hard, strive for excellence.