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Donald Finkel

I was born in New York City in October 1929, the year of the Wall Street Crash—although I’m uncertain regarding any causal relationship. I grew up in the West Bronx, only a few blocks from Yankee Stadium. If I climbed to the roof of the building across the street, I had a partial view of the Yankee outfield, but very little of the game. I reluctantly attended P.S. 73 until they set me loose, then ill-spent several years at the Bronx High School of Science. I recall passing most of my last year there reading paperback novels in Pennsylvania Station. I did complete my senior year, however, at a school in Connecticut, then spent most of the following year at the University of Chicago. I managed, however, to maintain my pristine record by being booted out for atrocious behavior.

I returned to New York and passed a lovely year studying stone-carving at the Art Students’ League. I’d been addicted to sculpture throughout my adolescent years, carving bars of soap with which my thoughtful mother provided me, hoping against hope to keep me out of trouble. I’m still unable to kick the sculpture habit: my study shelves are lined with over a hundred little critters glued together from cast-off scraps of plastic, ice-cream sticks, bottle caps, and wine corks.

I did manage to complete my formal education, garnering a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and a Master’s in English from Columbia University. Then I left New York for the territories, ill-spending a year at the University of Illinois, until a wise friend aimed me at the writing programs at the University of Iowa. It was there, in 1955, that I met my future wife, the poet and writer Constance Urdang. A year later the two of us married and absconded to Mexico, passing an enchanted year writing in Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende.

When we finally ran out of money we returned to Iowa, where I taught for a year. Then we moved to upstate New York, where I taught for a couple of years at Bard College, after which we drove westward to St. Louis with our first daughter, Liza. Shortly thereafter, while I began teaching at Washington University, our son Tom and our second daughter Amy were born. In 1977 the University instituted a graduate writing program with Constance as coordinator, and Stanley Elkin teaching fiction, while I ran the poetry workshop.

From time to time, however, we took off for parts as yet unknown. I taught as a visiting professor at Bennington College, and the two of us taught for a semester at Princeton. I retired from Washington University in 1991.

Constance died in 1996. Since then I persist in St. Louis with my daughter Amy, my son and his family, and my cat Julia Bean.

Titles by Donald Finkel
Not So the Chairs


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