The Robert B. Silvers Lecture is an annual series at the New York Public Library, created by Max Palevsky in recognition of the work of Robert B. Silvers, editor of The New York Review of Books, of which he was a founder in 1963. The series features writers and thinkers whose fields correspond to the broad range of Mr. Silvers’s interests in literature, the arts, politics, economics, history, and the sciences.
Throughout its first fifty years, The New York Review of Books has asked many questions: What is Art? How Did it Happen? Tennis Anyone? How Dead is Arnold Schoenberg? Aimez-Vous Rousseau? Is There a Marxist in the House? How Smelly Was the Palladian Villa? Do Fish Have Nostrils?
The Irish writer and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, who died on August 30 in Dublin, was for the last forty years both a contributor to The New York Review of Books and one of its frequent subjects. In 1973, Stephen Spender, reviewing books of poetry by Thom Gunn, W.S. Merwin, James Merrill, James Schuyler, Philip Levine, Kenneth Koch, and Heaney, wrote:
It is difficult to know what to say about Seamus Heaney except that he is very good, very Irish, very honest. His poems are, I suppose, autobiographical and are direct reports on experience. Nothing, on the level of the experience, seems invented. At the same time, he is intoxicated with language, so that the event, almost cinematically described, is dense with the texture of the words.
Heaney went on to publish a number of poems, a review, and an introduction and excerpts from his acclaimed Beowulf translation in the Review. Fifteen of his books were reviewed in our pages, and we present several of the pieces below, in his memory.
Thirty-nine years ago today, Richard Nixon resigned as president, after a long effort to avoid impeachment on charges related to the Watergate scandal. We present below a few highlights of the Review’s coverage of the Nixon presidency, including pieces by Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, I.F. Stone, Garry Wills, Philip Roth, and Mary McCarthy.
The first picture shows the mailroom of The New York Review’s offices in the Fisk Building, 250 West 57th Street, where I toiled from the spring of 1980 until the spring of 1981, when I was translated upward into the realm of editorial assistance. Actually “toiled” is a bit too strong a word. The job was not exactly strenuous.
In honor of the birthday of Czesław Miłosz (born in Lithuania on June 30, 1911) we present a selection of his work from the Review’s archives. Miłosz defected from Poland to the West in 1951, living in France at first and moving in 1960 to the United States. In 1980 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Getting started can be difficult. When your name draws a blank, it’s unlikely that anyone will buy what you’re selling. Luckily, the attention that worthy unknowns need in order to get noticed has a price. And for fifty years, publishers with books to sell and authors with a name to make have announced their arrival with an appearance in The New York Review: though not, at least initially, under a byline.
The great Northeast Blackout of August 2003 passed without Robert Silvers’s notice—or at least without him giving the impression of noticing. While I and the other assistants, racing to the windows to see what was happening outside, frantically speculated about terrorist attacks, Bob sat at his desk, resolutely editing a manuscript about Mesopotamian art of the third millennium BC.
On April 3, 2013 The New York Review of Books and the Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers at the New York Public Library presented a panel discussion celebrating the Review’s 50th anniversary. Five regular contributors discussed their careers, their experience writing for editors Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein, and their predictions and hopes for the future of literary journalism. We are pleased to present the excerpts below from this program.