Trillin attended public schools in Kansas City and went on to Yale University, where he served as chairman of the Yale Daily News and was a member of the Pundits and Scroll and Key before graduating in 1957; he later served as a Fellow of the University. After a stint in the U.S. Army, he worked as a reporter for Time magazine before joining the staff of The New Yorker in 1963. His reporting for The New Yorker on the racial integration of the University of Georgia was published in his first book, An Education in Georgia. He wrote the magazine’s U.S. Journal series from 1967 to 1982, covering local events both serious and quirky throughout the United States.
He has also written for The Nation magazine. He began in 1978 with a column called Variations, which was eventually renamed Uncivil Liberties and ran through 1985. The same name – Uncivil Liberties – was used for the column when it was syndicated weekly in newspapers, from 1986 to 1995. Essentially the same column then ran without a name in Time magazine from 1996 to 2001. His humor columns for The Nation often made fun of the editor of the time, Victor Navasky, whom he jokingly referred to as the wily and parsimonious Navasky. (He once wrote that the magazine paid "in the high two figures.") From the July 2, 1990, issue of The Nation to today, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column – humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person.
Family, travel and food are also themes in Trillin's work. Three of his books American Fried; Alice, Let's Eat; and Third Helpings; were individually published and are also collected in the 1994 compendium The Tummy Trilogy. In 1965, he married the educator and writer Alice Stewart Trillin with whom he had two daughters. Alice died in 2001. The most autobiographical of his works are Messages from My Father, Family Man, and an essay in the March 27, 2006, New Yorker, "Alice, Off the Page", discussing his late wife. A slightly expanded version of the latter essay, entitled About Alice, was published as a book on December 26, 2006. In Messages from My Father, Trillin recounts how his father always expected his son to be a Jew, but had primarily "raised me to be an American".
He has also written a collection of short stories – Barnett Frummer Is An Unbloomed Flower (1969) – and three comic novels, Runestruck (1977), Floater (1980), and Tepper Isn’t Going Out (2001). This last novel is about a man who enjoys parking in New York City for its own sake and is unusual among novels for exploring the subject of parking.
In 2008, The Library of America selected the essay Stranger with a Camera for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime.
In 2012, he was awarded the Thurber Prize for American Humor for Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff, published by Random House
Trillin lives in the Greenwich Village area of New York City.
Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff by Calvin Trillin
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (December 4, 2012)
Amazon: Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff
Calvin Trillin has committed blatant acts of funniness all over the place—in The New Yorker, in one-man off-Broadway shows, in his “deadline poetry” for The Nation, in comic novels, and in what USA Today called “simply the funniest regular column in journalism.” Now Trillin selects the best of his funny stuff and organizes it into topics like high finance (“My long-term investment strategy has been criticized as being entirely too dependent on Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes”) and the literary life (“The average shelf life of a book is somewhere between milk and yogurt”). He addresses the horrors of witnessing a voodoo economics ceremony and the mystery of how his mother managed for thirty years to feed her family nothing but leftovers (“We have a team of anthropologists in there now looking for the original meal”). He even skewers deserving political figures in poetry. In this, the definitive collection of his humor, Calvin Trillin is prescient, insightful, and invariably hilarious.
Remembering Denny by Calvin Trillin
Paperback: 232 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (April 28, 2005)
Amazon: Remembering Denny
A reissue of Calvin Trillin's memoir of his relationship with a brilliant but tragic Yale classmate that is also a rumination on social change in the 1950s and 1960s
Remembering Denny is perhaps Calvin Trillin's most inspired and powerful book: a memoir of a friendship, a work of investigative reporting, and an exploration of a country and a time that captures something essential about how America has changed since Trillin--and Denny Hansen--were graduated from Yale in 1957. Roger "Denny" Hansen had seemed then a college hero for the ages: a charmer with a dazzling smile, the subject of a feature in Life magazine, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a varsity swimmer, a Rhodes scholar...perhaps a future president, as his friends only half-joked. But after early jobs in government and journalism, Hansen's life increasingly took a downward turn and he gradually lost touch with family and old friends before eventually committing suicide--an obscure, embittered, pain-racked professor--in 1991. In contemplating his friend's life, Calvin Trillin considers questions both large and small--what part does the pressure of high expectations place on even the most gifted, how difficult might it have been to be a closeted homosexual in the unyielding world of the 1960s Foreign Service, how much responsibility does the individual bear for all that happens in his life--in a book that is also a meditation on our country's evolving sense of itself.
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