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Category Archives: Knopf

Alive & Dead in Indiana – Michael Martone

Michael Martone was 25 when Lish published this slim volume of seven monologues at Knopf. Yes, we say monologues because that is how these first person texts read, apparently originally conceived as faux contributor notes for jounrals like Indiana Review, Iowa Review, Shannendoah among others. It is the sort of postmodern reflexive thing he is still up to.

Martone channels the dead or those who knew the dead, such as a high school drama teacher who takes credit for teaching a young James Dean everything he knew about acting, or the musings of Alfred Kinsey on life and porn…or John Dillinger…or a little known “fact” that Fort Wayne, Indiana was number seven on Hitler’s list of cities to bomb.

Seems in 2010 a small theater in the Midwest did indeed mount a stage adaptation of these monologues.

Martone did not publish a second book with Knopf and Lish. In an interview at The LitBlog Co-op, Martone notes that the reason the collection is so skinny is that the Knopf lawyers had three stories pulled for “invasion of privacy” of real people (perhaps similar to the problems Robert Coover had with The Public Burning and Nixon and lawyers, a book that was originally purchased by Knopf) and the last story, “Vocation,” was added at the 11th hour. He also notes that the lack of author information, just a back photo, was “the form and function of Gordon Lish,” perhaps an attempt to emulate Truman Capote and his author photo and lack of author bio for Other Voices, Other Rooms.

Seems Dzanc Books will reissue Alive and Dead electronically via its rEprint Series. Would be cool if it included the three that the Knopf lawyers axed.


Star Dust, 7-11, Route 57, A&W, and So Forth by Patricia Lear

This is probably one of the few Lish-connected first collections (outside Carver, Hannha, Hempel, Williams and Robison) that quicly went through three printings not long after the first edition first run.

And it’s no wonder, the eight stories in Lear’s book are elegant, eloquent, and wonderful.  Six appeared in The 1/4ly, one in The Antioch Review (where Lish is an adviser and ed-at-large), one original, and one, “Pow-wow,” made the O. Henrys.

But this was 1993, and there has not been another Lear or from what we can tell, a near Lear. She is on Facebook, teaches at the Uni. of Nebraska, stories pop up now and then…but we want more books! Publishers need to reprint this one and get another one out, do you hear us or are we whistlin’ dixie?

Interview in The American Story: The Best of StoryQuarterly

Cane Hill Press put this one out in 1990, back when Diane Williams was still an editor at StoryQuarterly and the magazine had a distinct feel to it (albeit strongly Lish-influenced).

The interview is conducted by Lish-writer Patricia Lear, whose sole Knopf book we are re-reading right this moment and will discuss soon.  She admits to being a tad frightened of talking to Lish, because of all the “things” she’s heard about him. He laughs and takes it in stride — he knows his reputation and he encourages these public images.

GL: I can’t imagine why. I’m a very mild fellow. (laughter)

PL: Well, from what people have said about you. Many, many stories circulate. And last night, Iwas amazed at the love you put out. That’s what struck me first. The intensity that you want this to work, and te caring about these people, the writers in the room. I didn’t expect that. I thought it would be the kind of thing where your students had to “earn” you. An uphill battle.

GL: Well, I expect that, not unlike any extraordinary event, if I may characterize what goes on in that room an extraordinary event, those who are not present for it are inclined to develop rather inaccurate notions of what goes on. One has to be there.



Another interview included is with Anne Beattie, who was once a Lish student at Yale, and while Lish tried like bats to get Beattie into Esquire, it was a no-go with Howard Hays. Lish was, of course, please as peaches in a peach jar when Doubleday made the bold move of publishing her first novel and first collection on the same day…

Lishy writers Yannick Murphy and Leon Rooke are also included in this nifty neat anthology of a bygone era.

Days – Mary Robison

We just happened to have in our possession the uncorrected bound galleys of Mary Robison’s (pronounced Robe-eh-son)  first collection with Knopf and Lish, Days.  She was 30.

And lo, what is inside, but a letter typed by Lish his own self, dated February 26, 1979, addressed to someone named Bill, whoever this Bill is, seeking a blurb for the cover of the actual future book.

In the letter, written in Lishism, Lish talks about (when he talks about) the hard work he put into promoting –raising a “rumpus” — Carver’s Will You Please be Quiet, Please? and Hannah’s Airships.…and here, he feels Robison’s Days is equally as good and important for American letters at the edge of the 1980s, which was the salad days for the minimalist school.

In Cynthia Whitney Hallet’s published dissertation, Minimalism and the Short Story — Raymond Carver, Amy Hempel, and Mary Robison (Edwin Mellon Press, 2000), it is suggested that Lish did not press on Mary Robison his brand of minimalism, but that Robison influenced her style of minimalism onto Lish.

This could be — in Lish’s archives at the Lily, there are a number of memos from Esquire, Lish to Howard Hays, with Lish stating how much he admires Robison, worships her prose, and how he wishes he could publish her in Esquire…but: she has a first-look deal with The New Yorker and they have yet to reject the stories she send in; she can only offer Esquire a story if turned down by the editors at The New Yorker (a similar deal Carver would have there toward his end days).

Robison’s minimalism was intact, sans Lish, in The New Yorker pages, and those stories are presented in original form in Days…that is not to say Lish did not later start using the ink pen with her other collections for Knopf and her novel, Oh!

Who is Mary Robison? Robison was born to an attorney and a child psychologist in Columbus, Ohio. She has seven brothers and sisters as well as a half brother. From an early age she was interested in writing and as a child kept journals and wrote poetry as a teenager. She once ran away from home and journeyed to Florida in search of Jack Kerouac.  Funny, because Lish also moved from NY to San Francisco in search of Dean Moriarty from On the Road, thinking he was real — and then of course later befriending Neal Cassady and a lot of the beats.

While Days is not as canonical as Carver or Hannah’s Airships and Ray, and Robison has not attained their status (even Hempel seems to be above her)  it is a fine collection worth any bookshelf. As is her work as a whole.

Her latest books, however, seem to lack something that Days and Oh! do…wonder, youth…

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.

Cathedral — Raymond Carver

Again, a simple cover. Which is nice.  The Vintage paperback, however, is akin to the Vintage edition of WWTAWWTAL:

Now that Carver have some power over the editorial hand, and felt less dependent on Lish, he asked–if not demanded–that Lish did not do a slice up job on the manuscript, which, as seen in Lish’s archives, was originally submitted by agent Amanda Urban with the title So Much Water So Close to Home (which could have  been better, long like his other books)…in a letter, Lish thinks Carver is making a wrong move but he concedes and does a “light” edit on the book.

It was the last book Lish would do an edit…Where I’m Calling From and the poetry volumes were edited by Lish crony Gary Fisketjon.

In the Paris Review interview, pages of “The Bridle” are shown with Carver’s own edits:

What would these pages look like had Lish put his black ink pen to them?

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love — Ray Carver

What can we talk about that has not already been talked about this most famous book in both the careers of Carver and Lish?  So much has been said and written, from gossip to rumor to truth to literary criticism both afoul and concise. (We recommend looking for Michael Hemmingson’s 13,000 word critical essay on Lish’s editing Carver and Barry Hannah, forthcoming later this year in the learned journal Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, and the expanded 18,000-word chapter in his Routledge critical meditation, Gordon Lish and His Influence on 20th Century American Fiction.)

Needless to say, as was the case at McGraw-Hill, at Knopf, publisher Robert Gotlieb was not all that keen on publishing Raymond Carver — despite his canonical and institutional status as an American short story writer, not everyone (yesteryear and still today) feels comfortable reading Carver’s stories, with all the despair, alcoholism, poverty, bad marriages, domestic violence, lack of domestic tranquility, not to mention the minimalist style that we now know was more Lish (as co-author) than Carver as composer. (An editor at a certain university press in the Midwest once told us, while in bed after the throes of a passionate one-nights stand, that she could not read this book because it made her feel depressed and suicidal, reminding her too much of her failed marriage and sad childhood.) (Was it really necessary to make such a detailed aside? Why not? says we.)   But Carver’s first book did well, and Lish was his rah-rah boy at Random House, and despite the fact that Carver wanted to pull the book’s publication, and all his fears, the book was hailed as a masterpiece work of literary integrity and has been Lish’s (along with Airships) monumental contribution to the history of American letters.

And yet so much has been written about this matter as well, from D.T. Max’s literary world shattering essay to revelations in The New Yorker to the publication of Beginners, the non-Lish-edit version of What W Talk About.

First, let us consider the Lish archives at the Lily — in the Carver boxes one can find the edited manuscripts and see just how much Lish snipped out, although one can now compare the two published versions of the book.  In our view, some of the edits made the stories stronger, less sappy (James crying and praying at the end of “After the Denim,” wisely cut); in other cases, the original versions lend more depth of character and motivation of action  (“The Bath” and “Tell the Women We’re Going”).  Seeing and handling copies of these Carver manuscripts, written on various typewriters throughout his career and with various listed addresses, from Arizona to Iowa to California, is a treat for any fan, scholar and student.

And yet it is also disturbing to behold the many x’ed out paragraphs and series of pages, and the controversial added-in sentences by the Lish Hand, sentences that were previously labeled “Carver-esque” yet are in fact “Lish-esque.”

We contend this: Carver would not have had the career, and not have the famed status today, without Lish. After all, Lish did a lot of cheerleading to get Carver into the slick pages of Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar, to secure book contracts with major publishing houses, which lead to good teaching jobs, fellowships and grants, and eventually a home at The New Yorker.

Carver was publishing books and chapbooks with small presses like Capra, with 1-2,000 print runs…the question is: without Lish, would Carver have been able to break into commercial publishing, or would he have remained a minor voice in the small presses, later simply a footnote in 20th Century literary criticism?  Without the first two books, would there have been Cathedral?

Next, let us talk about the original 1981 Knopf hardback edition, something that fetches a high price on the market (for a 1st printing)…

Again, note the simplicity of the cover, only the title is presented, no flashy art design of motel room beds and women in slips and spread legs to catch the consumer eye in a bookstore…

No matter what images are on these and future editions, people will always talk more about the text inside, whether Lished-out or unLished.