Issue 163, Fall 2002
John Hall Wheelock (1886-1978) published his first poem in 1900, when he was fourteen. He died seventy-eight years later, with fifteen books of poetry to his name. As an artist, his work was modestly esteemed, in part because the modernist movement supplanted his appeal as a traditional, conservative poet. As an editor, his legacy is more easily appraised. Charles Scribner's Sons hired him in 1911 to work in their bookstore. In 1957, he retired as editor-in-chief During that time, he oversaw the Poets of Today series, which gave first-book publications to some of the century's finest, among them May Swenson, James Dickey, and Robert Pack. As he liked to say of the people he discovered, "All my poets turned out well."
About his mistakes, Wheelock was candid in the way only genuinely successful men can be. He turned down Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano and Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities. That said, these were the glory years of Scribner is, with trade lists that included Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and James Jones. Wheelock was a publishing insider as well as a participant in the literary life of his times. The figures discussed here, most of whom were not Scribner's authors, testify to the range of his connections-Sara Teasdale, Vache/Lindsay, Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, Alan Seeger, Marilyn Monroe, john Reed, and john Hayward. Wheelock recorded his recollections for the Columbia University History Research Office in 1967. The following excerpts from the transcriptions appear in The Last Romantic: A Poet Among Publishers, which was edited by Matthew J. Broccoli ,ind Judith S. Baughman and will be published later this year by the University of South Carolina Press.