RBG on Learning From Nabokov

From a 2011 interview by Bryan A. Garner for The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing:

Scribes: How did you originally cultivate your skills as a writer?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I attribute my caring about writing to two teachers I had, not in law school but as an undergraduate at Cornell. One was a teacher of European literature. His name was Vladimir Nabokov. He was a man in love with the sound of words. He taught me the importance of choosing the right word and presenting it in the right word order. He changed the way I read, the way I write. He was an enormous influence. And I had a kind and caring professor, Robert E. Cushman, for constitutional law. I worked for him as a research assistant. In his gentle way, he suggested that my writing was a bit elaborate. I learned to cut out unnecessary adjectives and to make my compositions as spare as I could. To this day, I can hear some of the things Nabokov said. Bleak House was one of the books we read in his course. He read aloud the opening pages at our first lecture on the book — describing the location of the chancery court surrounded by pervasive fog. Those pages paint a picture in words.

Scribes: Did Nabokov live to see you become a judge?

RBG: No.

Scribes: Did you stay in touch with him after you left Cornell?

RBG: Not after he wrote Lolita, a huge success, and went off to Switzerland to catch butterflies.

Monday, 21 September 2020