Nancy Willard Willard, Nancy

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Willard, Nancy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Willard, Nancy 1936–

Nancy Willard is an American poet and short story writer.

Nancy Willard has an unerring ear (and memory) for authentic speech, a sensitive, almost delicate feeling for tender childhood relationships, and real skill in shaping and bringing off a story. Erica is the protagonist of all the stories [in Childhood of the Magician], she is clearly the author going through the special process of remembering much that is irrelevant to growing up, and almost everything that is important to it. What makes this more than just a random collection of unrelated stories is the continuity the charming child Erica provides, as well as the sense of time developed, used and in one way fulfilled, in the woman Erica in her marriage. Everything in these charming stories points to genuine talent. It would be patronizing to say that I look forward to their flowering in [a] novel …; they are in many ways a flowering in themselves. (p. 32)

Doris Grumbach, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1974 by The New Republic, Inc.), May 25, 1974.

Nancy Willard's Childhood of the Magician is an immensely satisfying book, and I would like to give it an extra nudge. As a first book and as a gathering of stories, it may not get the readers it deserves. But Childhood of the Magician is more than a gathering; the stories fit together to give a sense of the largess of the novel. The title of the first story is appropriately the title of the book; nevertheless, the book is not the usual Bildungsroman. And while most of the stories have appeared in various journals, it is obvious that Willard had a broad plan in mind for her magician.

Childhood of the Magician makes the case for magic…. It suggests that the artist especially is enthralled, trapped by superstitions and various magics…. While the artist may be especially attracted to magic, most people have sought it—and so are attracted to the magics of the creative artist.

There is an abundance of good humor in these stories. At the same time, Nancy Willard excellently evokes the pathos of life. Her children play and ponder and amuse us, but we also recognize the truth of life in the several old people in the stories. Life is sad and wonderful and ultimately incomprehensible. There is no self-pity in these stories, no fatigue over the weariness or absurdity of life. Nancy Willard gives us something closer to blessing and benediction. (p. 106)

Joseph M. Flora, in The Michigan Quarterly Review (copyright © The University of Michigan, 1975), Winter, 1975.

Nancy Willard is a versatile young poet who has produced three other books of verse as well as a book of literary criticism and another of short stories, Childhood of the Magician (1973) which I very much admired. Carpenter of the Sun is her new collection of poetry. It displays a lovely wit that is rare among poets these days. I liked particularly her four poems based on sports headlines from newspapers—"Buffalo Climbs Out of Cellar," "Giant Streak Snarls Race"—and "Saints Lose Back":

      And there was complacency in heaven
      for the space of half an hour,
      and God said, Let every saint lose his back.

The poem goes on with its catalogue of considerations of the back, and ends with God still speaking:

      O, my angels, my exalted ones,
      consider the back,
      consider how the other half lives.

There are other equally good lyrics in the book, all, as the writer of the jacket copy quite rightly notices, "filled with wit, charm, elegance, and magic." (p. 33)

Doris Grumbach, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1975 by The New Republic, Inc.), January 4 & 11, 1975.

Nancy Willard's Carpenter of the Sun [is] a book full of poems about flowers and vegetables and animals and her son (there are other and darker things here too, but not many of them) and with not a single hard word to say about her husband and the difficulty of being a poet and a wife…. I'd been feeding...

(The entire section is 1,516 words.)