Wherever you position Bette Howland’s absence, the vacancy is glaring—she has the kind of large presence on the page that reconfigures the literary history of its moment, as, for instance, the revival of Jean Rhys did in the sixties. Both were mentored by an A-list great male novelist—Rhys by Ford Madox Ford; Howland by Saul Bellow, whom she met at a writers’ conference on Staten Island in the early sixties. Like Rhys and Ford, Howland and Bellow were “lovers for a time.” He continued as her friend until the end of his life, giving her advice that’s solid gold for a blocked, often depressed writer lacking in self-confidence: “I think you ought to write, in bed, and make use of your unhappiness. I do it. Many do. One should cook and eat one’s misery. Chain it like a dog. Harness it like Niagara Falls to generate light and supply voltage for electric chairs.”
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