Saturday, February 18, 2012


When I was away at school in the '80s my father sent me care packages. He might include an article or book he thought I'd like. Sometimes he sent a cartoon he drew himself.

They usually depicted some family tableau filtered through his unique perspective: he and my mom wintering in Florida or me returning home from school. He was very influenced by G.B. Trudeau's Doonesbury comic.

I don't remember the books and I didn't keep many of the articles. But those cartoons were priceless.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rejection Letter from New Directions

My father received this rejection letter from the publisher New Directions, signed by founder James Laughlin, in November, 1949. It's unusual in that Wendell wasn't trying to get published by New Directions. He wanted a job! Not only did Laughlin not have a job for him, he tried to get my father to shill for New Directions.

Well, New Directions may have needed help at the time but certainly didn't go under. They were publishing writers like Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, Anias Nin, Robert Lowry, Djuna Barnes, Wright Morris, William Carlos Williams, and Gertrude Stein. They've continued publishing experimental and advance guard (Laughlin's italics) authors such as Roberto Bolaño, César Aira, Javier Marías, Paul Auster, Patti Smith, László Krasznahorkai, and Jenny Erpenbeck among many others.

I found this letter folded into the early pages of my father's copy of Spearhead, 10 Years' Experimental Writing in America. It's a New Directions book, of course, copyright 1947. It is signed on the inside page with Wendell E Smith Christmas 1947. A gift? It's well read although the dust jacket is still there, barely hanging on. In the back of the book I found, just now as I was scanning the letter and jacket, a clipping about James Laughlin from the New York Times Book Review, August 23, 1981. He had a habit of stuffing his books, the books that he cared about, with clippings and reviews and ephemera.

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