WHAT IS AN EDITOR? by Dorothy Commins


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Scraps and scrapings from the career of editor Saxe Commins (Random House, 1933-58), midwife to O'Neill, Faulkner, and others, that are badly in need of some editorial attention, some articulation, expansion, and organization. When, to start with, was Saxe Commins born? Why the name Saxe? (Literary family? We know nothing about them.) At what stage did he work as a ghost writer (as he recounts in that sparkling Princeton speech)? The episode might help make intelligible his transition from dentist to editor. When and why did he set down the recollections of O'Neill that are among the book's highlights? Other authors barely touch base. Would it be indiscreet, for one thing, to clarify the politics of Maurice Hindus and Edgar Snow? To indicate the reception of Sinclair Lewis' later novels? Could you perhaps condense, in turn, the Robinson Jeffers correspondence about the unfortunate Double Axe, not print quite so many letters in toto. Ditto the long exchanges with Isak Dinesen, at best a biographical footnote. And we keep wanting more of Saxe: his diary of three anguished weeks at the typewriter producing a manuscript for a hopelessly incompetent author (""Again he folded up completely. Again excuses. Again promises"") is the best thing in the book. But it is really two books--glimmerings of O'Neill et al., and sidelights on the editor's role. To paraphrase Saxe, the structure must command interest, or readers will not persevere. Why leave them to discover, in Louis Sheaffer's life of O'Neill, that the young Saxe was ""a medical student with a feeling for literature whose play, The Obituary, was given on the Provincetowners' fourth bill. As a quiet bookish lad growing up in Rochester he had suffered from the reflected notoriety of being Emma Goldman's nephew,"" and so on.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1978
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago Press