Vidal leaves behind a book titled 'Duluth,' his 'fantasy city'
The man who wrote the book about Duluth has died. Well, not really -- about Duluth, that is, though its author has indeed passed on. Novelist, playwright, commentator and onetime U.S. Senate candidate Gore Vidal died at 86 on Tuesday night at his...
The man who wrote the book about Duluth has died.
Well, not really -- about Duluth, that is, though its author has indeed passed on.
Novelist, playwright, commentator and onetime U.S. Senate candidate Gore Vidal died at 86 on Tuesday night at his Los Angeles home due to complications from pneumonia, his nephew Burr Steers told the Associated Press. Vidal lived alone in the home and had been sick for "quite a while," Steers said.
Like his contemporaries Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, Vidal was among the last generation of literary writers who also were genuine celebrities, the AP noted. Among his works were hundreds of essays, a recently revived Tony-nominated play, "The Best Man," and the best-selling novels "Lincoln" and "Myra Breckenridge" -- as well as a critically acclaimed but less-popular novel, "Duluth."
"It had nary a mention of Duluth," recalled Bob Ashenmacher, who was the News Tribune's arts and entertainment reporter in June 1982 when he got word that the famous author was working on a book named for the Zenith City scheduled to come out that fall.
Ashenmacher penned a column volunteering to assist Vidal with local color, suggesting various plot lines such as Woody Allen in a North Shore condo and Dick Cavett at Hawk Ridge, when he got a handwritten note in the mail.
"Dear Mr. Ashenmacher," it read. "My 'Duluth' is not yours (you'll be delighted to know ) -- I've invented a fantasy city -- I call it Duluth because I wanted an American city but one that I never visited, and I've been in most of our cities, including Sioux Falls. Best, G. Vidal."
That apparently held true, with no record in the News Tribune's archives of Vidal ever having made the trip.
"Not to my knowledge, no," Ashenmacher, now an administrator at the College of St. Scholastica, said Wednesday.
Ashenmacher said he thinks he still has the note "at home somewhere" but that he's parted with a hardcover copy of the novel, as well as a publisher's proof sent to him.
"It didn't make that much of an impression," he said, not recalling if he read it all the way through.
For his part, Vidal considered his Duluth -- described in a New York Times review as "the North of America colliding with the South (Louisiana and Mexico lie on his Minnesota city's lower border), a Duluth that is the past folded into the future (Hubert Horatio Humphrey appears in a spaceship, still campaigning against Richard M. Nixon), a Duluth that is the whole of America collapsed into its essential nonsense" -- a more difficult literary endeavor than his relatively accessible fare.
"Anybody can describe Abraham Lincoln's life, but not many people can invent my Duluth, which I had to move, you know, from the northern part of the country," he said in a 2006 interview with the American Academy of Achievement.
"I put it a little too close to New Orleans. I don't know what shape my Duluth is in now. It may be a bit wet, but I moved it down there," he added in reference to Hurricane Katrina.
Though Vidal expressed pride in his invented Duluth, in the same interview he was asked how he would measure achievement.
"Never bother," he replied.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.