Journalist Calvin Trillin is a long-time staff writer at The New Yorker who has written over two dozen books. But he is perhaps best known as a humorist, a career that began in 1978 when then-editor of The Nation, “the parsimonious Victor Navasky,” took him to lunch.
As Trillin recalls, Navasky wanted to “discuss his grand vision for transforming The Nation from a shabby Pinko sheet to a shabby Pinko sheet with a humor column.” That column, which ran from 1986 to 1995, was eventually syndicated in newspapers and then ran in Time magazine from 1995 to 2001.
It was in 1990, with a brief rhyme titled “If You Knew What Sununu,” that Trillin added poetry to his repertoire. He became what he called a “deadline poet” for The Nation, writing one new poem about current events each week, except in warmer months. “The Nation is published only every other week of the summer, even though the downtrodden are oppressed every day of the year,” Trillin explained.
Over the years, many of his columns and poems were collected in book form, including the just-published “Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff.” It includes a number of his Jewish-themed pieces in a section called “Bagels, Yiddish and Other Jewish Contributions to Western Civilization.” Trillin spoke to The Arty Semite about finding inspiration and his Jewish sense of humor.
Curt Schleier: When did you realize you could make people laugh?