‘Art & Craft’ author reflects on a life in journalism

Thompson

In 2012, Bill Thompson retired from The Post and Courier after 41 years in the newspaper business, 32 of which he spent in Charleston.

Thompson, who continues to contribute book reviews and travel stories to this newspaper, spent several hours a week managing the book page and interviewing writers near and far. About 70 of those interviews, and several of his reviews, have been collected in a new volume called “Art & Craft: Thirty Years on the Literary Beat,” published by the University of South Carolina Press.

A book release party, free and open to the public, will be 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Charleston Library Society, 164 King St. Thompson will talk about his book and sign copies. Local author Josephine Humphreys, who wrote the forward to “Art & Craft,” will be on hand to offer Thompson encouragement and perhaps sign a few books herself.

On the occasion of the publication of Thompson’s first book, The Post and Courier asked him a few questions.

Q: Who thought up the title of your book “Art & Craft”?

A: Me. Curiously enough, it was the first title that came to mind when I began thinking of how I’d characterize the book. Nothing surfaced later that seemed better or more descriptive, so I went with it. Since writing at its best is both an art and a craft, in the best sense of both words, and since I was charged with selecting those articles and reviews from a large pool that (hopefully) reflected my own best writing, it seemed appropriate.

Q: Your interest in good writing and interesting writers led to this volume, a collection of your articles and reviews from The Post and Courier. How did the book come about?

A: As I was approaching my retirement from daily newspapering, I sent out a lot of thank-you notes to friends and colleagues to let them know how much I appreciated their help over the years, to whom I was passing the baton, and to offer any assistance they might need down the road.

I had worked with Jonathan Haupt, by then director of the University of South Carolina Press, for many years in a journalistic capacity and he was kind enough to invite me to submit a collection of my work for possible publication, which was very flattering.

As it was an academic press, and because the idea of an omnibus sampling of everything I had written about from books and film to travel and the arts would have been unwieldy, we decided to focus on my years as The Post and Courier’s book review editor.

Q: In her foreword to the book, Josephine Humphreys credits you with valuing local writers and therefore helping to define South Carolina’s literary scene. Offer an assessment of that scene.

A: That’s rather hard for me to assess. However much I valued our excellent array of local and area writers — and that was a great deal — I determined not to be parochial about it when covering books.

I wanted to offer not only a wide range of genres but an equally wide range of literary voices.

I knew that many people were moving to Charleston from elsewhere and while they were doubtless intrigued with local writers, they were just as interested in the work of out-of-state and international authors.

For every interview I did with a local or regional writer during my years covering books, I did three or four with authors from “off.” But I was aware of a growing writing community here, one I’m pleased to say was (and is) mutually supportive and encouraging, as well as accomplished. They are not simply good writers; they are good people, too.

Q: How is the book structured?

A: In the process of culling what I felt were the best-written pieces out of the approximately 750 author interviews I’d conducted, it became apparent that a number of persistent themes emerged.

In the end I chose roughly 70 interviews divided over nine chapters whose themes were literary fiction and nonfiction, the Southern Renaissance, biography, travel writing, topical issues, crime fiction, television, Civil War history and the Locals, though other local writers are sprinkled throughout the previous chapters as well.

The final chapter contains a small selection of some of the book reviews I wrote for the paper.

Q: Planning another book? Perhaps a novel, or a memoir?

A: “Art and Craft” already feels a good deal like a memoir of sorts, at least for me. To be candid, not to mention a bit immodest, I thought some of my best writing over the years was on motion pictures. I was the film critic and columnist, concurrently, for 19 or the 32 years I was also book review editor. So, foremost, that’s the next collection I’d like to do, if things work out.

Travel writing was closest to my heart toward the end of my newspaper career, and I’d also like to do a book on new and collected travel writing. Fiction? Not sure I have the chops, aside from the occasional short story. Not my forte, really. But one can always dream, yes?