RSS Feed

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.

Advertisements

Dear Mr. Capote – A New Looksy, eh

Says I, “Mr. and Mrs. First-Nighter at it once again, swapping the love juice back and forth in their young sweet mouths. Oh, Paki!”

A Peru of a Different View

I say, “Look at that cover!’

I say, “That’s a new cover.”

I say, “That cover is nifty.”

I say, “That boy is dancing something Peru-esque on the new cover to my old book.”

I say, “David?”

I say, “Are you still in the sandbox?”

I say, “I said I just wanted to play…it didn’t have to get violent, you know? You know? You do know. Lish knows. David knows. Norman didn’t know.”

Lish @ a Stuffy Literary Par-tah

Note the sad young literary men in suits in the background…hey, am I seeing Bill Clegg around there smoking crack?

A Lish Quote for June 7!

Can anything on this paper be any other than your non-fucking-fiction on a stick? … Here, all you terrible people, eat fluent Lish’s speech — true, exact, not infrequently contractionless, forever figmented, but never once — not once! — free.  –from “Canto” South Atlantic Quarterly 103 (2004): 57-60.

 

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.