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T.C. Boyle and 'The Women'
T. C. Boyle.

T. C. Boyle. (Photo: Spencer Boyle.)

American architect, and legend, Frank Lloyd Wright loved fame, followers and women. American novelist and short-story writer T.C. Boyle is no stranger to the limelight himself, or to the stories of larger-than-life American figures.

Now, T.C. Boyle has taken on Frank Lloyd Wright’s tempestuous love life in a novel called “The Women.” If Wright’s famed Prairie Style houses were cool and serene, his love life was anything but — up to and including axe-murder and fire.

This hour, On Point: Novelist T.C. Boyle on Frank Lloyd Wright and “The Women.”

You can join the conversation. Are you a Wright fan? A Boyle fan? What do you expect when these two showmen get together? Falling water? Taliesin? The Guggenheim? The fires behind them?


T.C. Boyle joins us in our studio. He’s the bestselling author of 20 books of fiction, both novels and short stories. His historical fiction has looked at John Harvey Kellogg in “The Road to Wellville” and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in “The Inner Circle.” His new novel, about Frank Lloyd Wright, is “The Women.”

Read an excerpt from “The Women” at Boyle’s website.

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  • Tiffany Campbell

    My grandmother was a FLW Fellow from 1944 to 1947. My grandmother adored Mr. Wright, I can not say the same for Mrs. Wright. I grew up with all the stories of her time there and she always contended was that what all the books and stories about his life get wrong is that they never capture how smart and wickedly funny he was. She spoke about how utterly disarming he was but in an intellectual way that opened your world up to new ideas and modes of thinking. Yes he had an impish side but it endeared her to him even more, he made her build the guggenheim in popsicle sticks (she had to eat hundreds of popsicles).
    My grandmother really did not see him as a cult leader, that was Mrs. Wright’s wish. But he did like to categorize people. Mr. Wright once said about my grandmother,” Margie would never amount to anything because she didn’t like sorghum and she wouldn’t drink buttermilk.” I also remember the time that I fell down the stone steps. He came running down and picked me up and he said “My God, Margie don’t hurt yourself, there are so few of us.”

  • Jessica Jones

    Hi Tom,

    I’m a great fan of Wright’s architecture and actually grew up in Racine, WI where some of his most famous buildings are. I was wondering though if your guest could speak a little about Wright’s relationship with Ayn Rand. From what I understand the character Howard Roarke was based on Wright and I know that at some point Rand wanted Wright to build her home in CA. Anyway, I would find the details of their relationship fascinating as they are both sort of heroes of mine.

    Jessica Jones

  • Tim

    Regarding FLWright:
    He may have been a visionary in terms of integrating buildings, especially homes, with their natural settings, but as a furniture designer he was awful. As a woodworker and furniture designer myself, I’ve never seen a piece of furniture designed by Wright that does not scream THIS PIECE DESIGNED BY FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT!!! Astoundingly uncomfortable chairs, ridiculously clunky tables, and so on.
    Mr. Boyle, would you be so kind as to comment on this?
    (for what it’s worth, I’m a native of southeastern Wisconsin, and have several friends who studied with the great man himself.)

  • Tiffany Campbell

    I forgot to mention that my Grandmother was forced out by Mrs. Wright because she believed Mr. Wright and my grandmother were having relations.

  • Tiffany Campbell

    My grandmother saw Mr. Wright as a teacher not as her leader. She spoke about how the ideas flowed in a democratic way, much more than at the University of Chicago Architecture program. It was Mrs. Wright that had come form a pseudo-cult and tried to institute a cult like control over people. I think you have mixed the what Mrs. Wright did as Mr. Wright. Yes he went along with her because it was easier, but on a personal level he did not treat my grandmother as her God, but truly as an equal.

  • Marjorie Thomsen

    Have you read Loving Frank by Nancy Horan? Great historical fiction.

  • John Arthur

    Both Doyle and Ashbrook are woefully ignorant of Frank Lloyd Wright, his architecture, and his period. Doyle buys into the nonsense propagated by Wright, Taliesin, and the FLW Foundation that American architecture made a brilliant jump from Victorian excess to Wright and his Prairie Houses. In fact, Wright’s houses evolve from the Shingle Stye houses and owes them a heavy debt. The open plan, which Doyle attributes to Wright, in fact comes over to our shores from England and typifies both the Shingle Style and American Arts and Crafts house. These homes by Wright could never have occurred without the great country houses by the Richardson, McKim, Mead, & White, and others that were quite well known at the time.
    Wright’s work connects directly to the Arts & Crafts movement, which is widely acknowledged. HIs flamboyant dress comes straight from Elbert Hubbard of the Roycrofters, and the idea of the “total and harmonic work” down to the furniture, decorative objects, etc, comes from Wm. Morris, the English Arts & Crafts movement, Makintosh in Scotland, and the Vienna Secessionists.
    Wright was the greatest architect of the twentieth century, and such books do him and his work a disservice. This was one of the silliest and most ill-informed discussions I have ever heard on NPR, and to promote this author, so ignorant of the facts, and addicted to the aspects of sensationalism and scandal is disgraceful. Tom Ashbrook should be ashamed of himself.

  • http://www.abbottbiznet.com Nathaniel Abbott

    Let’s not be so harsh on this interview, nor attribute all of Wright’s stylistic choices to prior art. His genius was clearly sculpting a new form for the American residential house, and no prior architect combined all of the elements of an FLW house in the way that he did with his most original works. To deny Doyle’s points about Wright’s struggle with his own home life and female relationships censors a full discussion of his motivation to produce an ideal residence for a more harmonious, appreciative and artistic family life. Wright can be appreciated without discounting any of the achievements of the American Craft Movement, or the predecessors of it in Europe. The influences of those movements on Wright are well enough documented elsewhere.

  • http://www.bonaventuraarchitect.com LORRAINE BONAVENTURA

    My grandmother worked at the Guugenheim throughout the 1950′s as an assistant
    to Hilla Rebay and Solomon Guggenheim. During this time, it was one of her projects to look for sites in Manhattan for the new Museum and for temprorary office spaces. She met Frank Lloyd Wright many times over that decade and described those meetings to me when I was young.

    I am an Architect living and working in NY city.

  • Leon Freilich


    She’s sweet, she’s smart, she’s distant,
    So how to make her yours?
    No formula exists,
    Claim vets of courting wars

    And yet there is–here’s how:
    You look in her eyes and state,
    “Honey, you really look thin,
    And your hair, well it’s so great.”

    This sure-fire formula
    Comes with a guarantee
    You’ll win her hesitant heart
    (Though it’s never worked for me).

  • http://www.taliesinpreservation.org Ms. Keiran Murphy

    Attn: Ms. Campbell:

    I’d love to know who your grandmother was. I work at Taliesin Preservation, Inc. in historic research and the years of WWII and immediately afterward are a point of holes in the research. You can go to our website, and look for my name in order to get my e-mail address if you’re interested.

    By the way, I always tell people that I think Frank Lloyd Wright had a great sense of humor when I’m asked, “What do people not know about Frank Lloyd Wright?” I just get that from what I’ve read over the years about what he said and his interactions with people.

    As for Boyle’s book – we’re reading it right now, and I have been enjoying it. It’s quite an enjoyable twist to see it from Boyle’s point of view.

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