Critic and writer Darryl Pinckney recalls his friendship and apprenticeship with Elizabeth Hardwick and Barbara Epstein and the introduction they offered him to the New York literary world.
Darryl Pinckney arrived at Columbia University in New York City in the early 1970s and had the opportunity to enroll in Elizabeth Hardwick’s creative writing class at Barnard. It changed his life. When the semester was over, he continued to visit her, and he became close to both Hardwick and Barbara Epstein, Hardwick’s best friend and neighbor and a fellow founder of The New York Review of Books. Pinckney was drawn into a New York literary world where he encountered some of the fascinating contributors to the Review, among them Susan Sontag, Robert Lowell, and Mary McCarthy. Yet the intellectual and artistic freedom that Pinckney observed on West Sixty-seventh Street could conflict with the demands of his politically minded family and their sense of the unavoidable lessons of black history.
Pinckney’s education in Hardwick’s orbit took place in the context of the cultural movements then sweeping New York. In addition, through his peers and former classmates—such as Felice Rosser, Jim Jarmusch, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lucy Sante, Howard Brookner, and Nan Goldin—Pinckney witnessed the coming together of the New Wave scene in the East Village. He experienced the avantgarde life at the same time as he was discovering the sexual freedom brought by gay liberation. It was his time for hope.
In Come Back in September, Pinckney recalls his introduction to New York and to the writing life. The critic and novelist intimately captures this revolutionary, brilliant, and troubled period in American letters. Elizabeth Hardwick was not only his link to the intellectual heart of New York but also a source of continuous support and of inspiration—in the way she worked, her artistry, the beauty of her voice. Through his memories of the city and of Hardwick, we see the emergence and evolution of Pinckney himself as a writer.
Named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2022 and a Best Nonfiction Book of 2022 by The Washington Post
“Elegant [and] intimate . . . With this new book, [Pinckney] gives us a window into the vibrant intellectual community that he and Hardwick shared . . . At times painful and poignant, Come Back in September is nonetheless a delight to read, full of deft character sketches and delicious gossip . . . I read and reread this book joyfully, catching many of Pinckney’s references, looking up others and letting the rest wash over me like lyrics from a half-forgotten song.” —Maggie Doherty, The New York Times Book Review
"The brilliant Elizabeth Hardwick . . . guided the 20-something Pinckney through the upper echelons of Manhattan literary and intellectual life. This memoir of that apprenticeship—by one of our most distinguished writers on African American culture, literature and history—provides a 'you are there' account of those thrilling years." —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"An ode to the power of mentorship if ever there was one . . . [Pinckney] takes us deep into a world in which there’s no such thing as 'too literary,' a world in which literature is an all-consuming passion that requires unwavering devotion, like taking vows." —Heller McAlpin, The Wall Street Journal
“Pinckney is a sly writer, with the impressionistic brush of a poet but the dedication of a historian . . . It says something about Hardwick’s brilliance that even after reading nearly 500 pages about her, I wanted more.” —Jessica Ferri, Los Angeles Times
“[A] brilliant memoir of a sentimental education among the literati of a bygone New York. Both stunningly well written and stuffed with dishy gossip . . . [Come Back in September is] an essential document of literary history evoking an era of hope, youth, wisdom, and tragedy.”—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Pinckney’s affectionate reminiscences capture their lasting brilliance . . . his profound 20-year bond with Hardwick glows on the page like warm afternoon sunlight." —Lesley Williams, Booklist (Starred Review)
“A poignant study of memory in action . . . Pinckney records [Elizabeth] Hardwick’s life in intimate detail . . . Pinckney’s roving style, his impressionist blurring, elevates a society memoir into a kaleidoscopic portrait of 1970s New York, [and] asks us to share his admiration for a writer who saw the essay, even the book review, not as a disposable form of journalism but as an opportunity for literary creation.” —Charlie Tyson, Bookforum
"[Pinckney's] prose is entertaining, gossipy, and full of vivid thumbnails yet, in its loose-jointed way, deeply serious about literature and craft . . . The result is a captivating portrait of the writing life in one of its richest settings." —Publishers Weekly
“In a sumptuously written memoir that affectingly situates itself within the space of Hardwick’s offered mentorship and friendship, Pinckney—an illustrious and captivating talent in his own right—reminisces about his close relationship with the pioneering writer and critic who was also his onetime professor.” —Omari Weekes, Vulture