From a June 8, 1972, letter by William Styron to Frederick Exley, the author of A Fan’s Notes, who was a guest lecturer at the University of Iowa that year. Styron, the author of such novels as The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, died in 2006. Selected Letters of William Styron, edited by Rose Styron and R. Blakeslee Gilpin, will be published by Random House next month.
The state of Iowa is filled with rich farmers who make pots of money selling hogs in places like Dubuque and Sioux City, which we poor suckers in turn remunerate by buying bacon at $1.19 a pound. These rich farm bastards in turn support fat institutions of learning like the University of Iowa, which should be able to pay a decent fee for writers to come and titillate the same farmers’ daughters with their (Thomas Wolfe’s phrase) creamy thighs. I will agree to come to your class for expense money, but only against my better judgment. I am not a particularly venal person, but I feel that we writers deserve honest pay for honest work (and that includes appearing at classes) as much as do doctors or lawyers and certainly more than politicians. Actually, with me the amount of the money involved is really immaterial (my father-in-law was a clever scoundrel who in 1934 bought 9,000 shares of IBM at $8.00 a share and left them to my wife); it is—to be trite—the principle of the thing. In other words, I’d feel more comfortable about it if John Leggett could squeeze one of those hog’s tits and get me, say, as little as $250, but in any case I will come out there for expenses if those cheap bastards can’t cough up anything. Let me know when this deal takes place.