The Way It Wasn't: From the Files of James Laughlin (Paperback)
James Laughlin poet, ladies' man, heir to a steel fortune, and the founder of New Directions was still at work on his autobiography when he died at 83. He left behind personal files crammed with memories and memorabilia: in "M" he is taking Marianne Moore to Yankee games (outings captured here in charming snapshots) to discuss "arcane mammals," and in "N" nearly plunging off a mountain, hunting butterflies with Nabokov ("Volya was a doll in a very severe upper-crust Russian way"). With an accent on humor, The Way It Wasn't is a scrapbook loaded with ephemera letters and memories, clippings and photographs. This richly illustrated album glitters like a magpie's nest, if a magpie could have known Tennessee Williams, W.C. Williams, Merton, Miller, Stein, and Pound. In "C": "I wish that nice Jean Cocteau were still around. He took me to lunch at the Grand Vefours in the Palais-Royal and explained all about flying saucers. He understood mechanical things. He would advise me." In "P": "There was not much 'gracious living' in Pittsburgh, where at one house, the butler passed chewing gum on a silver salver after coffee." And: "The world is full of a large number of irritating people." In "H" there's Lillian Hellman: "What a raspy character. When I knocked at her door to try to borrow one of her books (hoping to butter her up) she only opened her door four inches and said words to the effect: 'Fuck off, you rapist.'" Marketing in "M": "I think it's important to get the 'troubadours' into the title. That's a 'buy-me' word." In "G": "Olga asked Allen Ginsberg if he was also buying Pound Conference T-shirts for his grandchildren. She was most lovable throughout." In "L": "Wyndham Lewis wrote 'Why don't you stop New Directions, your books are crap.'" And we find love in "L": "Cicero noted that an old love pinches like a crab." But in The Way It Wasn't James Laughlin's love of the crazy world and his crazier authors does not pinch a bit: it glows with wit and enlarges our feeling for the late great twentieth century.
About the Author
James Laughlin (1914 1997) founded New Directions in 1936 while still a student at Harvard. He wrote and compiled more than a dozen books of poetry as well as stories and essays; seven volumes of his correspondence with his authors are available from W.W. Norton.
Born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1960, Barbara Epler joined New Directions after graduating from Harvard, and is now the editor-in-chief and vice president. She lives in New York City.
Daniel Javitch is Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University. He is the author of Poetry and Courtliness in Renaissance England, Proclaiming a Classic: The Canonization of Orlando Furioso, and is at work on a book tentatively entitled Thinking About Genre in the Sixteenth Century. He has been, since 1972, a director of New Directions Publishing Corporation.