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Paris in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Age

by Richard Seaver, edited by Jeannette Seaver

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-374-27378-1
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A dense, detailed, priceless eyewitness account of the making of a literary generation between Paris and New York.

A native of Pennsylvania, a Navy man, erstwhile teacher and AFS fellow living in Paris in the early 1950s on a shoestring, Seaver fell in with a group of expat writers and intellectuals turning out the English-language literary magazine Merlin, published by Alex Trocchi and Patrick Bowles. Seaver, who spoke French fluently and was in the process of completing graduate studies on James Joyce, had become acquainted with the writing of Samuel Beckett, also living in Paris but then fairly unknown although he had been publishing since the late ’20s. Seaver’s essay about Beckett and subsequent translations of his short work in the magazine helped spread the word about the brilliant but reclusive bilingual author, whom Seaver finally befriended and depicts here in wonderfully explicit passages. Other legendary figures Seaver encountered included the towering Jean-Paul Sartre, who graciously offered pieces from his own Les Temps modernes and urged him to publish Jean Genet. Gradually the magazine ventured into publishing books, inviting Olympia Press publisher Maurice Girodias to act as manager debuting with Beckett’s Watt. Marriage to young French violinist Jeanette—later his co-editor at Arcade Publishing and the editor of this posthumously published work—and two subsequent years in the Navy Reserves prompted Seaver to relocate to New York, where he segued naturally into the managing editor role at Grove Press, run by Barney Rosset, the English publisher of Beckett and many of the same incendiary authors Seaver had championed in France. Indeed, the press would make its name fighting pornography charges in the ’60s against D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (and Capricorn) and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, and valiantly standing by Last Exit to Brooklyn and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, among many others.

A rich record of the vicissitudes of publishing during an inimitable time and place.