It’s the birthday of novelist and essayist Eleanor Clark (books by this author), born in Los Angeles, California (1913). She went to college at Vassar, and while she was there she founded a literary magazine with three classmates who would go on to become well-known writers: Elizabeth Bishop, Muriel Rukeyser, and Mary McCarthy. After Clark graduated, she worked a series of freelance editing and translating jobs before publishing her first novel in 1946 — The Bitter Box, about an ordinary bank clerk who quits his job to become involved in the Communist Party. He’s used by other members of the party to further their agenda, and ends up disgraced and disillusioned.
One of Clark’s best-known works is a nonfiction book on oysters: The Oysters of Locmariaquer, in which Clark wrote about the oyster industry in a small region in northwest France. It won the National Book Award in 1965. Clark wrote: “If you don’t love life you can’t enjoy an oyster; there is a shock of freshness to it and intimations of the ages of man, some piercing intuition of the sea and all its weeds and breezes. [They] shiver you for a split second.”
In the 1970s, Clark became afflicted with an eye disease that made it impossible to use a typewriter and almost impossible to read. Her daughter suggested she try writing with Magic Markers and large gray drawing pads, and Clark ended up writing an entire book that way, the memoir Eyes, Etc. (1977), which begins: “Try first to write a page a day this way. Get used to it.” She went on to write two more novels and a travel book.