William Styron: The Way of the Writer

*Please note that any links forwarding to third-party streaming services have no affiliation or monetary connection with Simply Streep.
Release date: January 22, 1997
Directed by: Variety Moszynski
Produced by: PBS Television
Running time: 60 minutes

The writer William Styron gets the "American Masters" celebratory treatment on public television. Merely being selected for the series signals an occasion for preening, but Mr. Styron, a courtly Southerner born in Newport News, Va., in 1925, is a bit too complex to fit easily into this comfortable format. Styron's novel "Sophie's Choice" was made into a film in 1982 and won Meryl Streep a Best Actress Academy Award for her leading performance.

Narrated by the actress Mary McDonnell, the portrait begins with Mr. Styron confiding how black people had “a constant hold on my boyhood.” Further, he says, “trying to understand black experience motivated much of my writing.” We see Mr. Styron attending service at a black church and embracing a black man in a “bonding ceremony.” Still, and quite justifiably, Mr. Styron has his enthusiastic admirers. In this documentary they include the novelists Peter Matthiessen and Carlos Fuentes and the playwright Arthur Miller. Mr. Styron does not always come off very admirably. One of his grown children recalls a family life in which “we were not very close, and that’s a source of sadness to this day.” Mr. Styron, accepting that “I’m an idealist to a certain extent,” is content to quote Albert Camus about living “constantly on the edge,” along with the Thornton Wilder echo that “we escape by the skin of our teeth.” With seeming reluctance, he’s a fascinating man. William Styron died on November 1st, 2006. He was 81 years old.