empire-776799_1280Favorite Author — Damon Runyon

I want to share some of my favorite authors and what I learned from them.

I stumbled across a collection of short stories by Damon Runyon when I was seventeen.  I had seen the movie version of the 1950’s Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls” and enjoyed it, so I opened the book.

“When it comes on summer, and the nights get nice and warm, I love to sit on the steps in front of the bank at Forty-eighth Street and Seventh Avenue … Sometimes you can see very prominent citizens sitting with me on the bank steps, including such as Regret, the horse player, and old Sorrowful, the bookie, and Doc Daro and Professor D. and Johnny Oakley and The Greek, and often strangers in the city, seeing us sitting there and looking so cool, stop and take off their coats and sit down with us, although personally if I am a stranger in the city I will be a little careful who I sit down with no matter how hot I am.”          “Delegates at Large”

I had never read anything like it.  The stories are set in New York City, around Broadway, in th 1920’s and 1930’s, among criminals and semi-criminals.  Runyon invented a unique style to write these stories.  An unnamed narrator tells all the stories in first-person.  They are always in present tense, contain no contractions, and are filled with the slang of that area and time, like “roscoe” and “rod” for gun,  “beezer” for nose, “gendarmes” for police, and “shiv” for knife.  Every character is known by a nickname.  Many of the stories have a twist at the end and dark humor, running all the way to black.  Although the stories were written for pure entertainment, some have sad or grim endings.  And some make you laugh out loud.

I read all the stories I could find by Damon Runyon.  He wrote both fiction and nonfiction, but I think his Broadway stories are the best.  He created his own world, with its own language.  His characters were so colorful that they inspired their own adjective, “Runyonesque.”  Click here for the Goodreads site on Damon Runyon.

I’ll write about what I learned from reading Runyon next time.