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Sharing Memories With Stanford Pritchard

Tuesday August 22, 2006

By Larry Johnson

    One thing many deeply creative people seem to  share  is an intense passion for and a narrow focus on whatever craft they 0are applying themselves to at any given time. Stanford Pritchard of Middlebury is no exception. He is a novelist, playwright, poet and jazz pianist and his life is an all-consuming dedication to his many talents.

Stanford was born in Washington, D.C. where his father owned and operated a men’s clothing store. While growing up in the nation’s capitol, Stanford, a newspaper boy, had the dubious distinction of delivering Richard Nixon’s newspaper. The Vice President lived about a half-block away in a private house. Stanford also delivered newspapers to Estes Kefauver and Dean Rusk. Fortunately for Stanford, newspaper delivery was only a temporary vocation.

After high school, Stanford went to Haverford College, a small, first-class Quaker college where he majored in philosophy. After graduation, he received a Rockefeller Grant to attend the University of Chicago’s Divinity School. It wasn’t long, however, before he dropped out. “The Vietnam War was in full swing,” Stanford told me, “and times were chaotic. It was impossible for me to concentrate on my studies. Besides, it was about this time that a mentor of mine, Robert Spike, formerly of Judson Church in New York, was murdered.”  Divinity school seemed superfluous somehow.

Out on his own, Stanford ran a coffee house in Chicago’s Hyde Park, but his soul ached for something more. He became a freelance writer and either worked for or wrote for The New York Free Press, Cavalier, and the New York Review of Books. Stanford has taught at the Breadloaf Young Writers Conference and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His writing has appeared in The New England Review, The Kenyon Review, The Wisconsin Review and The International Philosophical Quarterly, and elsewhere.

Eventually Stanford moved to a fifth-floor walk-up in New York and went to work for the New York Review of Books. “New York became my mentor,” he told me.

Growing up in Washington, D.C., Stanford had studied piano and later on in life became a professional jazz musician; he played for six summers in Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the Flagship Restaurant. “In Provincetown, I rediscovered myself,” he told me. “From being a stuffy book reader I became a disco duck.” He also taught piano and played in such disparate places as Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and Grand Central Station.

Stanford has written four novels, a novella and a collection of short stories. In addition, he has published three chapbooks of poetry and a poetry collection. He has written twenty one-act and two full-length plays. Eight of his plays have been produced off-off Broadway. Most recently, last December in fact, the New Media Repertory Theatre Company in New York produced and presented five of his one-act plays, under the title, Blocking Out the Symptoms.

Stanford admits that his social life is limited because of his work. Or, more accurately, his work is his life. “A writer’s life is very lonely,” he confessed, “but it’s what you do.” Stanford quotes Samuel Beckett: “I write in order to breathe.”

The reason it’s lonely, I suggest, is because of Stanford’s unusual working arrangement. He sleeps until two or three in the afternoon and then works all night, with just a few hours off in the evening for non-writing activities. This would put his waking hours at odds with about 99% of the population. “I work eight to ten hour days,” Stanford explained.

“I need four—or five—hour blocks in order to write. I have to write an entire scene at a sitting, no matter how long it takes. I actually turn the clock away so I can’t see it.” Stanford says he sometimes misses the “normal” lifestyle. “There are days I would rather be doing something besides sleeping.” Working at night, however, offers fewer distractions, it seems, for a creative mind that needs total concentration. Whenever Stanford is forced away from his work, for whatever reason, it is poetry that helps him get back into his writing routine. It is poetry, he admits, that reacquaints him with the “starkness of self.”

Stanford has lived part-time in Vermont since 1980. He divides his time and his writing life between his Middlebury apartment on Springside Road, and New York City. If you’re walking in that part of town at three in the morning and you see a light shining from an upstairs window, you will know that Stanford Pritchard is busy doing what he does best---writing novels, plays and poems.


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