Chicago-based fiction writer and cultural critic R. Clifton Spargo spoke at an English colloquium on Oct. 9, and read from his newest novel “Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald,” a work of historical fiction that imagines the last tumultuous years of the famous 1920s couple.
Called a man who “believes in the power of the narrative” by intro speaker Professor of English Michael “Mac” McClelland, Spargo is the first ever recipient of the Mimi and Kent Dixon Professorship for Creative Writing, and is teaching two creative writing classes at Wittenberg this semester.
The colloquium was the first of two that Spargo will give this semester, and focused primarily on his book “Beautiful Fools,” with readings interjected by discussions of his research and writing methods, as well as anecdotes from Zelda and Scott Fitzgeralds’ lives.
“They were the golden couple in America’s Jazz Age, the Roaring 20s, as glamorous as they were brilliant, Scott and Zelda,” Spargo said, introducing his novel.
Spargo spoke a lot of the “legend” behind the couple, comparing them to contemporary examples such as Beyoncé and Jay-Z, so well-known “they don’t even need a last name.”
The book centers around the later years of the Fitzgeralds’ relationship, and particularly focuses on the concept of loyalty in support in the wake of the mental illnesses both of them suffered.
“We know about their early decade, their tumultuous, passionate fun-filled days,” Spargo said.
But Spargo’s book continues past those exultant hours and looks deeply into the alcoholism and bipolar tendencies of Scott Fitzgerald, and at the more pronounced schizophrenia from which Zelda Fitzgerald suffered, living most of her last decade in and out of hospitals.
Spargo, gathering inspiration from the extensive correspondence between the two, was fascinated by the “continual hope of reunion” that punctuated their final decades, and the “burst of youth and energy” that they presented, and that would come to represent an entire decade of American history.
In addition to correspondence, Spargo also gained insight from numerous biographies and trips to Cuba where Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald traveled, but not from their own works or writing style, choosing instead to avoid reading any of their creative works during the writing process.
After the readings, conversation and anecdotes, Spargo hosted a short question-and-answer session with the audience, during which he addressed some of the difficulties of writing from both a male and female perspective intermittently, as well as his own philosophical take on the “golden couple.”
“They’re more than just a cautionary tale,” Spargo said. “There’s a great loyalty in their story . . . there is something in all the risks they take . . . in all the beauty and foolishness that can still teach us a few things today.”
Spargo will be teaching at Wittenberg through the semester, and will host another colloquium titled “Storytelling and Social Conscience” on Nov. 5 in Bayley Auditorium.
BY MADDIE LAW