Issue 106, Spring 1988
The correspondence between James Laughlin and William Carlos Williams began late in 1933 at the instigation of their mutual friend, Ezra Pound. At the age of nineteen, Laughlin had met Pound in Rapallo, Italy, where he spent several months on a leave of absence from Harvard at Pound’s "Ezuversity,” a sort of informal seminar conducted by the poet. Suggesting that Laughlin would best serve literature by becoming a publisher, Pound put him in touch with many in his extensive network of literary contacts, including his friend William Carlos Williams.
Laughlin first wrote Williams in December, 1933-After a month the doctor replied, misspelling (which he did persistently) Laughlin’s surname as Loughlin. Upon his return to Harvard, Laughlin persuaded Williams to publish in the college literary magazine. The Harvard Advocate. When New Directions was founded in 1936 in Norfolk, Connecticut, on the estate of a supportive aunt, Mrs. Leila Carlisle, Laughlin’s publishing strategy was to build his list on a foundation of work by Pound (who referred to New Directions as Nude Erections) and Williams, adding new authors and poets as they came on the literary scene, Williams was agreeable. He permitted Laughlin to publish his novel White Mule, chapters of which had been appearing in small literary magazines since 1930.
The relations between Williams and Laughlin had their periods of tension. Indeed, the publication o/White Mule initiated the first: five hundred copies of the initial printing were sold out; six hundred additional copies had been printed but not bound, Williams went to Norfolk to discover that Laughlin was off in New Zealand ski-racing (skiing was the young publisher’s other passion) and nothing could be done until he returned. An exchange on the subject of moving to a more commercially-oriented publishing house is among the letters which follow. Others concern the efforts of both men on behalf of Ezra Pound after his commitment to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital following his trial for treason, as well as Williams’ assessment of his peers, among them T.S. Eliot (negative) and E.M. Forster (positive). The selection is taken from their extensive collected correspondence, edited, annotated, and introduced by Hugh Witemeyer, which W.W. Norton will publish early in 1989 —an extraordinary record of American letters in the mid-twentieth century.