William Zinsser

William Knowlton Zinsser is an American writer, editor, literary critic, and teacher. He began his career as a journalist for the New York Herald Tribune, where he worked as a feature writer, drama editor, film critic, and editorial writer. He has been a longtime contributor to leading magazines.
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In this deeply felt book, nine American writers and thinkers from different points of the religious compass discuss how their work is nourished by spiritual concerns.

Diana Ackerman explains why she calls herself a "messenger of wonder" and how, in her observations of the natural world, "there is a form of beholding that is a kind of prayer."

David Bradley recalls how his inheritance as the son, grandson and great-grandson of black preachers has enabled him, at considerable pain, to be "touched by the word."

Frederick Buechner makes an intensely personal journey to his roots as a novelist: "In fiction, as in faith, something outside ourselves is breathed into us if we're open enough to inhale it."

Allen Ginsberg describes how his poetry is grounded in the Buddhist idea of renunciation of "hand-me-down conceptions" and the meditative practice of "letting go of thoughts."

Mary Gordon retraces an odyssey in which the religious beliefs and forms of a Catholic girlhood turned out to be "as useful as a wiretap" to the grown-up novelist.

Patricia Hampl describes how the writing of Virgin Time took her on a series of pilgrimages to explore the contemplative life.

Hillel Levine tells of his search for the mystery of goodness, exemplified by a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who saved thousands of Jews on the eve of World War II.

Hugh Nissenson explains how his work as a Jewish writer has been animated by "a sense of the holy" and shaped by the "poetry, drama and narrative" of the King James Bible.

Jaroslav Pelikan revisits three religious writers--Augustine, Newman, and Boethius--whose influence on other religious writers over the centuries has never gone out of fashion.

Together, as William Zinsser notes in his introduction, these writers are on a "pilgrimage to find the source of their faith as individuals and their strength as artists."
"This inspiring guide includes places everyone means to go to some day, all described with the usual clarity of the author of On Writing Well."—The New York Times

"A fascinating take on ‘the search for memory’ and how certain places have come to symbolize deep American principles."—Kirkus Reviews

Join William Zinsser as he visits sixteen of our nation's most treasured historic sites—unlearning cliched assumptions and rediscovering fundamental truths about America. American Places—and the ideals that Zinsser discovers these places represent—will never go out of fashion.

"Speaking across the centuries with stone and symbol, narrative and myth, America's iconic places remind us of our anchoring principles and best intentions. 'This is where we started and what we believed and who we hoped to become,' these places say. At least that's what they said to me."

"Niagara Falls existed only in the attic of my mind where collective memory is stored: scraps of songs about honeymooning couples, vistas by painters who tried to get the plummeting waters to hold still, film clips of Marilyn Monroe running for her life in Niagara, odds and ends of lore about stuntmen who died going over the falls, and always, somewhere among the scraps, a boat called Maid of the Mist, which took tourists…where? Behind the falls? Under the falls? Death hovered at the edge of the images in my attic, or at least danger. But I had never thought of going to see the place itself. That was for other people. Now I wanted to be one of those other people."—from American Places

"American Places paints vivid word pictures that put you in those places and make you feel that you've been there, but it also encourages each of us to take our own trek through history."—Riverside Press-Enterprise

"Zinsser's choices and descriptions are refreshing because of the obvious thought that went into the selections. It's also fun to read Zinsser's observations."—Chicago Tribune

"Highly recommended"—Library Journal

"In this account of the world adventures of two splendid jazz artists, Bill Zinsser has given us one of the most exciting books about America's original art form that I've ever read. It's a revelation."—Studs Terkel

Since 1955, Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff have been playing, teaching, and sharing jazz around the U.S. and around the world. William Zinsser, one of our finest chroniclers of American life, tells their story as he travels with the duo to China, to Davenport, Iowa, to New York City, and—with Willie Ruff—to St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, where Ruff journeys back to the roots of Western music in order to understand jazz's musical legacy.

Zinsser also accompanies Mitchell and Ruff as they visit their hometowns in Florida and Alabama. We listen as the two men tell of growing up in small towns in the American South of the 1930s and 40s; as they tell about the teachers, community leaders, and family members who believed in two young black men with talent but no formal musical training; as they tell of their struggles, their perseverance, and their ultimate success.

Jazz is indeed a uniquely American musical tradition, and there are no better guides to this inspiring art than Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff.

"[This is a] thoughtful, adept, and satisfyingly unusual book of reportage…Though its contents are entirely factual, it concerns lives that give the sense of being but fatefully, imaginatively, arranged, and it constantly suggests improvisation—that is, 'something created during the process of delivery,' as Mr. Ruff explains the term to the Chinese…He also tells them improvisation is 'the lifeblood of jazz.' William Zinsser's book reminds us that improvisation is the lifeblood of life, too. [This book is also] about difficult passages that end in victorious arrival. Mitchell & Ruff is a deservedly happy book."—New York Times Book Review

"A highly infectious, Studs Terkel-like chronicle about the unorthodox development of two distinguished musicians."—Publishers Weekly

"Jazz came to China for the first time on the afternoon of June 2, 1981, when the American bassist and French-horn player Willie Ruff introduced himself and his partner, the pianist Dwike Mitchell, to several hundred students and professors who were crowded into a large room at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Probably they were not surprised to find that the two musicians were black…What they undoubtedly didn't expect was that Ruff would talk to them in Chinese."—from Chapter 1, "Shanghai"

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