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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.

Articles

News and Features

This Racicot seemed like Bush's sort of guy:
Pro-life, he thought that killers ought to fry.
Though right-wing to the core in many ways,
He was, the Christian right said, soft on gays.
They told Bush that he ought to give the nod
To Ashcroft, who believes he speaks for God.
"OK," said Bush. Though not perhaps so glad, he
Bowed quickly to the wackos, like his daddy--
Yes, like the Bush to whom we bid adieu.
We now know what we have here: Lapdog II.

                  
                  I

Now Ashcroft will decide who's on the bench.
The civil rights division will retrench--
Unless it finds that civil rights entails
Some breaks at last for pure white Christian males.
The jobs and housing efforts that depend
On Justice will on Ashcroft's watch all end.
And solemn friend-of-court briefs will be filed:
"Abortion simply means to kill a child."
One comfort lasts, as dreams of justice shatter:
Ralph Nader said it really wouldn't matter.

                                    II

Gale Norton thinks there's no place you can spoil
If what you do to it produces oil.
She'd like to see no regulations left;
She thinks controls on property is theft.
Emissions? Who should monitor their flow?
To her it's clear: the firm's own CEO.
So drillers drill. Here's what Interior's got:
A protégée of James (The Crackpot) Watt.
Don't tear your hair and curse those who begat her:
Remember: Nader said it wouldn't matter.

(Another Republican sea chantey)

They all went down to stop Miami-Dade
From making counts the judges had OK'd.
Unlikely toughs, with ties and crisp white shirts,
They went to hand Al Gore his just deserts.
So, noisily, they jammed into the hall.
Then Sweeney, from the House, began to call.

Shut it down, shut it down, shut it down.
The first machine vote's truly holy.
Shut it down, shut it down, shut it down,
With a heave-ho-ho and a bottle of Stoly.

One congressman by whom they had been sent:
DeLay in name, and also in intent.
Prepared to knock a head or bust a snout
To show what our democracy's about,
They bumped some chests and maybe pulled some hair,
And Sweeney's martial call stayed in the air:

Shut it down, shut it down, shut it down.
The rule of law is holy, too.
Shut it down, shut it down, shut it down.
With a heave-ho-ho and some microbrew.

(Lyrics found on a table inside a state building
in Miami-Dade County)

I'm counting my heart out for you.
The votes I am finding are few.
We hear the mob right in the hallway heat up,
They're talking of the chads that we might eat up.
I hope this ends before we all get beat up.
I'm looking for voters for you--
Some blacks or a wandering Jew.
There aren't enough new hanging chads to suit me.
I hope the Cubans don't show up to shoot me.
There doesn't seem much I can do,
Still, I'm counting my heart out for you.

The President has gone to Vietnam,
A smallish country that we used to bomb
But now would like to send our products to.
And so our corporations take the view
That if the country's ruling class has picked
A form of rule that can be somewhat strict,
That's up to them. And Clinton went to say
That there is nothing standing in the way
Of being friends with them forevermore.
Remind me, please: Why did we fight that war?

While Bush says counting votes by hand's unfair,
Gore gains--a bubbe here, a zayde there.

The Journal of Nutrition wrote about
Some researchers who tested chocolate out.
It may help stave off heart attacks, they claim.
Red wine, we've known for years, can do the same.
Without the need of any doctor's urging,
I feel a healthy diet plan emerging.

They thought they'd vote the Democratic slate,
But somehow felt they needed something more.
They finally found a candidate who was
More sanctimonious than Albert Gore.