Calvin Trillin | The Nation

Calvin Trillin

Author Bios

Calvin Trillin

Verse Columnist

Calvin Trillin, the author of Random House's Deciding the Next Decider: The 2008 Presidential Election in Rhyme, is The Nation's "deadline poet." He has been acclaimed in fields of writing that are remarkably diverse. As someone who has published solidly reported pieces in The New Yorkerfor forty years, he has been called "perhaps the finest reporter in America." His wry commentary on the American scene and his books chronicling his adventures as a "happy eater" have earned him renown as "a classic American humorist." His About Alice—a 2007 New York Times best seller that was hailed as "a miniature masterpiece"—followed two other best-selling memoirs, Remembering Denny and Messages from My Father.

Trillin was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, and now lives in New York. He graduated from Yale in 1957, did a hitch in the army, and then joined Time. After a year covering the South from the Atlanta bureau, he became a writer for Time in New York.

In 1963, he became a staff writer for The New Yorker. From 1967 to 1982, he produced a highly praised series of articles for The New Yorker called "U.S. Journal"—3,000-word pieces every three weeks from somewhere in the United States, on subjects that ranged from the murder of a farmer's wife in Iowa to the author's effort to write the definitive history of a Louisiana restaurant called Didee's "or to eat an awful lot of baked duck and dirty rice trying." Some of the murder stories from that series were published in 1984 as Killings, a book that was described by William Geist in the New York Times Book Review as "that rarity, reportage as art."

From 1978 through 1985, Trillin was a columnist for The Nation, writing what USA Today called "simply the funniest regular column in journalism." From 1986 through 1995, the column was syndicated to newspapers. From 1996 to 2001, Trillin did a column for Time. His columns have been collected in five books.

Since 1990, Trillin has written a piece of comic verse weekly for The Nation. In 2004, he published Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme. A sequel, A Heckuva Job, was published in 2006. Both were New York Times best-sellers.

Trillin's books have included three comic novels (most recently the national best-seller Tepper Isn't Going Out) and a collection of short stories and a travel book and an account of the desegregation of the University of Georgia. Three of his antic books on eating—American FriedAlice, Let's Eat, andThird Helpings—were compiled in 1994 into a single volume called The Tummy Trilogy.

He lectures widely, and has appeared often as a guest on television. He has written and presented two one man shows at the American Place Theater in New York—both of them critically acclaimed and both sell outs. In reviewing "Words, No Music," in 1990, New York Times theater critic Mel Gussow called Trillin "the Buster Keaton of performance humorists."

Calvin Trillin is a trustee of the New York Public Library, a former trustee of Yale and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


News and Features

Trillin's Infamous Doggerel

(With apologies to Harry Belafonte, among others)

Bombed all night by dat Yankee bunch
Daylight come and de bombers go home
Now dey'll drop some cashew crunch
Daylight come and de bombers go home

Day-o, day-o
Bad guys hide in dere catacomb
Day-o, day-o,

'Til dose bombers have said shalom.

Hey, Mr. Taliban, shoutin' your hosannas
Daylight come and de bombers go home
You're de Kool-Aid makin' dese Guyanas
Daylight come and de bombers go home

Day-o, day-o,
Daylight come and de bombers go home
Day-o, day-o,
Daylight come and de bombers go home.

So V.S. Naipaul finally gets the prize.
It's said he's willing, through unblinking eyes,
To make his observations, then recall
The bleakest Third World countries, warts and all.
While valuing his writing, I still think
It wouldn't hurt if, now and then, he'd blink.

By night our missiles rain on them,
By day we drop them bread.
They should be grateful for the food--
Unless, of course, they're dead.

(An old Nat "King" Cole song, as sung by Rudy "King"

Indispensable, that's what I am.
I'm an
icon now, like Uncle Sam.
I'm the rock this town is built
Après moi, no one could carry on.
No one
but me
Could possibly be
(bah, bah, bah)
the mayor for life.
No one worries now about my wife.
So, you
see, I've simply got to stay.
I'll be mayor forever and a
And I'll still be indispensable then.