March 29, 2012 | by Claire Messud
Our Spring Revel will take place on April 3. In anticipation of the event, the Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating Robert Silvers, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize.
My first encounter with Robert Silvers was with his sonorous and elegant voice, with its precise, slightly British diction. It must be said that most of my encounters over the years have been with the voice rather than the man, as we’ve met in person only a few times.
I first heard the voice in the summer of 1988. Back in the States after my first year of graduate school at Cambridge University, I somehow landed a job in the advertising department at The New York Review of Books. I can’t imagine I came by it entirely honestly, but I have no recollection of whose kindness may have opened the door. This was at the old address, 250 West Fifty-seventh Street, where entering the offices felt somehow like slipping in a back door, because you were immediately dwarfed by books. Mountainous, heavily laden shelves overhung the narrow, dark corridors, and people scurried quietly among them as if in fear—fear, I always thought, that like Leonard Bast they would be crushed by knowledge.
In the several months I worked in those offices—in the domain of Catherine Tice, at the elbow of a brassily confident assistant named Kim—I never laid eyes on either Bob or Barbara. (I had, on the other hand, many mad and wonderful conversations with the late Bob Tashman, who roved the office with apparently much time on his hands and who, although balding, had an impressive corona of hair emerging from his shirt collar. His long-worked-upon American Decameron, alas, we will never now see.) Bob and Barbara’s offices were down long tributaries of the book-lined hallways, unenterable by the likes of me. But I did, upon occasion, hear the magical voice. It was like hearing the Wizard of Oz. Whether he was speaking on the telephone or to an assistant, his interlocutors were inaudible, the authority of his inflections absolute, and his physical presence purely notional. Read More »