An engaging, meticulously edited collection for all fans of literary biography.



A self-portrait in letters by an iconic poet and indefatigable correspondent.

Hammer, a Merrill biographer and English professor at Yale, and Yenser, a poet, literary critic, and Merrill’s co–literary executor, have gathered a copious selection of letters by the acclaimed poet (National Book Award, Pulitzer, etc.), beginning with young Jimmy’s request to “Santa Clause” for a flashlight and continuing through countless letters to family, friends, lovers, and literary luminaries. The son of Charles Merrill, founder of Merrill Lynch, the poet had a privileged childhood: By the age of 12, he had seen 18 operas. But he grew up beset, he admitted, by “my sense of what others expected of me, and my shame over not being the person they wanted me to be.” At the age of 20, writing to his first lover, he confessed, “through you I have made the first assertion away from my family.” Still, he reported that their relationship precipitated “another long, quiet, strained talk” with his mother, who insisted that he see a psychiatrist. Many letters are ebulliently alive with gossip, such as Merrill’s delightfully catty recounting of a lunch hosted by publisher Alfred Knopf (“sniffing about in his chalkblue suit”) to celebrate the 75th birthday of a grumpy Wallace Stevens; guests included Marianne Moore, wearing a black tricorne (whom Merrill met there for the first time), W.H. Auden, Jacques Barzun (“someone to whom I was never introduced,” Merrill noted), and Lionel Trilling. Many letters chronicle his affairs and long-term relationships. Diagnosed with HIV in 1986, Merrill reported on his health only to a few confidants. Amplified by the editors’ authoritative annotations, a chronology, and capsule biographies of major figures in Merrill’s life, the book creates a palpable sense of the poet’s wide, eventful world, “properly stuffed with culture and people,” travels, and accomplishments—as well as struggles and, inevitably, loss.

An engaging, meticulously edited collection for all fans of literary biography.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-101-87550-6

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

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A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

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A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.


The iconic model tells the story of her eventful life.

According to the acknowledgments, this memoir started as "a fifty-page poem and then grew into hundreds of pages of…more poetry." Readers will be glad that Anderson eventually turned to writing prose, since the well-told anecdotes and memorable character sketches are what make it a page-turner. The poetry (more accurately described as italicized notes-to-self with line breaks) remains strewn liberally through the pages, often summarizing the takeaway or the emotional impact of the events described: "I was / and still am / an exceptionally / easy target. / And, / I'm proud of that." This way of expressing herself is part of who she is, formed partly by her passion for Anaïs Nin and other writers; she is a serious maven of literature and the arts. The narrative gets off to a good start with Anderson’s nostalgic memories of her childhood in coastal Vancouver, raised by very young, very wild, and not very competent parents. Here and throughout the book, the author displays a remarkable lack of anger. She has faced abuse and mistreatment of many kinds over the decades, but she touches on the most appalling passages lightly—though not so lightly you don't feel the torment of the media attention on the events leading up to her divorce from Tommy Lee. Her trip to the pages of Playboy, which involved an escape from a violent fiance and sneaking across the border, is one of many jaw-dropping stories. In one interesting passage, Julian Assange's mother counsels Anderson to desexualize her image in order to be taken more seriously as an activist. She decided that “it was too late to turn back now”—that sexy is an inalienable part of who she is. Throughout her account of this kooky, messed-up, enviable, and often thrilling life, her humility (her sons "are true miracles, considering the gene pool") never fails her.

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2023

ISBN: 9780063226562

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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