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Airships — Barry Hannah

Airships was one of the first, if not the first, books Lish edited for Knopf, a logical transitional choice. When Mary Hemingway picked it as winner of the Arnold Gringich Memorial Award (for former Esquire founder/editor), it was determined, by her suggestion, that Knopf be the publishing partner and that Lish handle the book — after all, half th stories in Airships Lish already worked on for Esquire.


There is a telling note on the copyright page: “Text and title have in certain cases have been altered since the original publication.”

Yes, such as the story “Knowing He was Not My Kind Yet I Followed” which first appeared in Black Warrior Review, appeared under a different title.

And here is something real curious:

She’d been through the minor Depression in the thirties. She’d seen some things, I guess. (p. 134, “Eating Wife and Friends”)

In What We Talk About, the Raymond Carver story “Mr. Coffe and Mr. Fixit” starts: “I have seen some things.”  In the original version from Beginners, called “Where is Everyone?”, that first sentence is there so would seem to be Carver’s words.

Coincidence?  Perhaps.

There is no argument about the canonical status of Airships, and that it resurrected Hannah’s faltering career — his second novel did not sell well, despite his first, Geronimo Rex, winning the Faulkner Award and grabbing a National Book Award nomination.  The year after Airships was published, Hannah received the prestigious Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, then he won a Guggenheim, the Robert Penn Warren Lifetime Achievement Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in the art of the short story.

And, as noted before, his drinking and drug use affected his ability to complete The Tennis Handsome, Ray, and Captain Maximus; and Lish had come in to pull a Maxwell Perkins to Hannah’s Thomas Wolfe.

Would Hannah have obtained his fame without the Lish Hand?

Also, look at the Knopf cover — again, just a simple title was all that was needed.

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