Issue 128, Fall 1993
As the cover attests, this is The Paris Review's fortieth anniversary, a time for celebration since enterprises of this sort tend to lead fitful if not fateful existences. Indeed, this year did not start out particularly well. For the first time in years the magazine did not receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The sum —$10,000 —is substantial considering our financial situation, which is that the magazine loses money annually and has been doing so since its inception. There are reasons for these troubles: the magazine prints far more pages than it should (over three hundred an issue) and pays its contributors on a scale not much below that of more affluent, large circulation magazines. So we must rely on the beneficence of those who admire what we are trying to do . . . and this includes those who sit on the grant panels. The Literary Publishing Panel found us wanting this year . . . not even a partial grant to make us feel good on our fortieth birthday!
Since it’s a government grant, one can request a report to find out the reasons for being turned down —the deliberations of the panel are public. We wrote to ask. Some of us thought that we had been turned down because three years ago our publisher, Deborah Pease, returned the grant in protest of the restrictive clause added to grants following the Mapplethorpe brouhaha —a stand, I might add, for which she and the magazine won the 1990 Open Book Award for First Amendment Courage from the Society of Journalists and Authors. Our suspicions, thank goodness, were ill-founded. In the report, there was first praise for our longevity, and then for a print run very large for a literary magazine (13,000). We were “lauded” for the development of the literary interview, and rather curiously, for reproducing manuscript pages (“which give valuable insight into the way writers work”) —an illustration accompanying the interviews that we’ve always considered little more than a throwaway compared to the enormous volume of material provided by the interviews themselves.
Then came the criticisms. The panelists took the magazine to task for being “conservative and bland, thereby limiting its potential impact.” Nonsense! Anyone reading The Paris Review can hardly ascribe these words to its contents unless one understands them as codewords of a system in which “correctness” is taken to be more important than excellence. As for the odd claim that we have not achieved our “potential impact,” isn’t that directly refuted by their praise of our high circulation? Then the panelists claimed, “that the magazine rarely published the work of emerging writers, and in many instances it published the same established writers over and over again.” Wrong! The panel also disagreed about the value of the interviews with authors (a feature, incidentally, collected over the years into nine volumes by Viking Press), remarking that the ones they’d evaluated seemed “self-congratulatory.” Since two of the interviewees in question were Nobel Prize laureates, perhaps it is not all that surprising!
“In short,” the report stated, “the panelists agreed that a more adventurous editorial vision would better serve The Paris Review's readers and potential contributors.” This last was especially infuriating — rather lordly, sanctimonious advice as if the Endowment panelists were members of a consulting firm. Particularly dismaying in our case is the fact that the panelists simply got the facts wrong . . . accusing us, for instance, of not publishing “emerging writers” (that dreadful descriptive). Nearly a quarter of the fiction writers published in the four issues under review by the panel had never been published before in this country. As for publishing authors “over and over,” it has been a magazine policy here to be very careful about this —not to establish a stable of writers. Sometimes, of course, what is sent in is of such intrinsic value that only the most lunatic of policies would require that it be returned. I can think of only a handful of writers who have appeared three or four times — which considering that we have published one hundred and twenty-eight numbers of the magazine, does not seem to fit the term “over and over.”
Fortunately, the issues of The Paris Review judged by the National Endowment’s panel were not seen quite the same way by others. For its fiction The Paris Review was picked as one of the four finalists (including The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly) by the American Society of Magazine Editors for the National Magazine Award in fiction. Short stories, essays and poetry were selected by the Pushcart Press, which published what its panel considers the best from the literary magazines around the country. What has preceded is by no means an indictment of the National Endowment or its policies. It performs an invaluable service to literary magazines of all kinds. We are extremely grateful to them for their help in the past. The letter explaining the panel’s reservations pointed out that allocations for literary publishing decreased by over $100,000 between 1992 and 1993. Supposedly, The Paris Review was on the cusp, and had the allocation remained the same, many presses and magazines, including us, would have been funded. Thus the panel, although we consider its findings questionable in our case, is not so much to blame as the legislators who cut the National Endowment’s budget. It is despairing that this country —or at least its Congress —does not consider its artists worthy of the same kind of support given by, say, France, which knows that its cultural heritage is an entity to be supported to the fullest.
In any case, our congratulations to the forty-three magazines that did receive grants . . . admirable grantees all!
One positive result of losing our NEA grant was that we had to scramble around to find funds to make up the difference, if not more. To do this we planned a number of benefits. The most enterprising was a street fair we proposed to have outside the magazine’s offices on 72nd Street —in a little park overlooking the East River. Booths were envisioned where writers could sit and sign their books and chat with their readers. So were midway concession booths where writers (both aspiring and “emerging") could have their palms read or throw baseballs at wooden milk bottles painted to look like contemporary critics and publishers. A little ferris wheel, perhaps. Poetry “slams” between uptown and the Village. A strength-testing machine rising up twenty-five feet or so, lit by an overhead light, worked by banging a sledge-hammer to send a plunger up its runners towards a fire-alarm bell at the top —the levels marked off with waters’ names. A perfect blow would send the disc up past Anita Loos, Louisa May Alcott, George Herbert, Bret Harte, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dominick Donne, John Gregory’ Donne, John Donne, Tom Wolfe, Thomas Wolfe, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot on up to Shakespeare, say, or Chaucer which would ring the bell. Clang!
Impractical, alas. Very much so. So we retreated to more traditional fundraisers. The Rollows, who are Associates (their seats are actually held by their daughters Delia, age eight, and Lucia, age six) hosted a parry on Sue Rollows parents’ estate in Marion, Massachusetts — lovely lawns fronted on three sides by the waters of Narragansett Bay. A flagpole flew a pennant on which was fashioned The Paris Review eagle — the bird of the earliest covers with its Phrygian cap, clutching a pen. Writers read from their work in a huge upstairs library’. A curious drama entitled ‘The Judgement of Paris Review" was performed on an outdoor stage. The Boston Globe came to the party’. Their headline read: “The Paris Review Goes Gatsby." It was nor inaccurate. Guests came in wdiite flannels. A seaplane coasted up onto the beach with a group from Martha’s Vineyard. A croquet court w'as in play. There were fireworks from a sandbar offshore. Through a mistake in communication they wTent off prematurely w’hile William Styron was reading from Sophie's Choice to a large group in the library. He continued unruffled as if the bombardment of shells and the lightning flickers through the library’ windows were phenomenons to which he was quite accustomed. The editors did not know many of the people w’ho came . . . friends of the Rollows, some who motored down from Boston and Cambridge, others who by word of mouth had heard of the goings-on in Marion, that a revel with much entertainment to offer was being held to support a literary magazine. Fireworks, what’s more! Over two hundred turned up. Enough money was raised to offset the loss of the Endowment grant.
Then in September, another fund-raiser, under the patronage of Montblanc, U.S.A. was held on Long Island on a chilly night at the estate of Anthony Drexel Duke overlooking Three Mile Harbor. Here, the entertainment featured a cancan line and readings from issues of the magazine dating back to 1953 —excerpts from Beckett, Celine, Faulkner, Hemingway, Roth, Styron and others read by a lineup of writers and actors, Lauren Bacall, Alec Baldwin, Peter Boyle, Norman Mailer, E.L. Doctorow, Tom Wolfe, Kurt Vonnegut among them. Dancing. Fireworks, of course. I should explain that the undersigned, the Fireworks Commissioner of New York City, has written a large book on fireworks and is so crazed about the things that my friends on such occasions as fund-raising for the Review assume that a fireworks show should be pan of the festivities. This tends to cut into the profits. But then perhaps the people who paid to attend came because of the fireworks, which wouldn’t surprise me at all!
Some of the festivities this past year have not been fundraisers but simply celebrations of our fortieth year. Indeed, last year there was vague hope that some of us could return to the font itself—Paris, France —and celebrate in the old haunts, Le Chaplain in Montparnasse, the Montana Bar in St. Germain-des-Pres, the Café Tournon on the Avenue Tournon at the base of the Jardin du Luxembourg. This was, of course, too expensive a proposition with or without Endowment funds. The nearest we could come to it was the hamlet of Paris, Mississippi, where we had a catfish fry this spring, and fireworks, of course. A group of us had gone to be part of a seminar sponsored by the University of Mississippi in Oxford, which is about thirty-five miles from Paris. It turns out there are fifteen other Parises in the U.S. and Canada. We wrote to all of them in the hope that our efforts over the years might be recognized, even if by the wrong Paris, with a scroll, a parchment or a city key, even a telegram suitable for framing. Alas, only one Paris responded. The mayor of Paris, Illinois, Frank L. Clinton, wrote a very pleasant letter. He invited us to his city (“known locally as ‘The Paris of America’”) and said he would provide a guided tour, including a dinner of “genuine” French cuisine. Moreover, the undersigned was asked to assist the coaches of either the high-school football or the basketball teams, depending on the season. The teams are called the Paris Tigers. A brochure reports that every September there is not only an “All-U-Can-Eat” spaghetti supper at the Community center but also a giant flea market on the East Jasper Plaza parking lot. Come July there is a fireworks display in Twin Lakes Park. Paris gets its name, so the mayor’s letter tells us, from settlers arriving from Paris, Kentucky. We concur with the mayor’s sentiment that “outside of France there may be more than one Paris, but not one better than Paris, Illinois. I believe you will find that although we may lack the grandeur of the Paris in France we more than make up for it in hospitality.” Hear! Hear!
A small typewritten notice, taped to the wall in the Paris Review office in New York, reads THIS IS NOT THE JUNIOR LEAGUE. Considering all the functions described above, one might suppose that these revels are a common adjunct to life at the Review. Not so. The editors would much rather concentrate their energies on what they are here for—to assess the near-twenty thousand manuscripts that come in annually in hopes of finding material that suits the required level of quality. That is not only the goal but the pleasure of working in this office.
Perhaps the present issue will indicate this. A word about it. We have collected some remarkable documents, which very much fit a precept that has been of considerable importance to us from the start. This is to offer what can be discerned about the creative process first-hand rather than relying on critics and interpreters, thus, the interview series on the craft of writing started in 1953 with E.M. Forster.
To indicate how exacting the practice of writing can be, we had hoped to publish for the first time the forty-four different endings to A Farewell to Arms, which Ernest Hemingway worked on (and kept!) before being satisfied. Alas, at the last minute the endings were withdrawn by Patrick Hemingway, the author’s son, who with his brothers is involved in litigation with the Ernest Hemingway Foundation as to the proprietorship of the property. Perhaps we will be able to offer this fascinating portfolio when their differences are resolved. But there is much else: Hemingway’s troubles with titles; a curious source of inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald in the course of writing The Great Gatsby; an example of the difficulties writers can get into with their political beliefs: Ezra Pound’s confession to a military officer after his apprehension near Rapallo, Italy in 1945, published here for the first time. Also, Pound’s translation of Canto 72, one of the two he wrote in Italian, into English —just recently discovered in the papers of Olga Rudge at the Beinecke Library and introduced by Pound’s longtime editor, James Laughlin. Next, a remarkable me a culpa letter from Dylan Thomas to Marguerite Caetani, the publisher of the international magazine Botteghe Oscure, explaining why his manuscript is late —a model for those writers who find themselves in a similar situation. And finally, excerpts from John Cheever’s revealing diaries —entries that pertain to writing and the writing business.
This portfolio is, of course, in addition to our regular compliment of short stories (one of them a first publication, nota bene NEA panelists!) and poetry.
This notice has gone on longer than most. But there were things to be explained. Perhaps it should end with an aside to those who wish to help the magazine sustain itself—that it is simple to do. I have affixed my calling card, which I occasionally slip into an open pocket and often leave on buses, to make it easy for them.