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.
We conclude our National Poetry Month celebration with work by the critic Helen Vendler, who has contributed over fifty pieces in The New York Review, from her 1975 consideration of the poems of William Carlos Williams to her essays in the past year on Edward Thomas and Robert Hass.
For the fourth week of our National Poetry Month celebration, we will be focused on the work of Wisława Szymborska. Szymborska was born in 1923 in Bnin, a small town in western Poland, and from early childhood lived in Kraków. She worked on the editorial staff of the cultural weekly Życie Literackie (Literary Life) from 1952 to 1981. Szymborska wrote some twenty books of poetry, was a distinguished translator of French poetry into Polish, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996, “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.” She died in February 2012.
In the morning, it was usually rather quiet until Bob dashed in—a tornado of energy—around 10 or 10:30, having already been up at dawn calling Europe from home or pulling an all-nighter on some review not in good shape. He, of course, had a thousand ideas and out of his suit pockets fished a matchbook cover or some other scrap with the crucial contact, writer’s name, or the title of a book—little leads from the day before at the Council on Foreign Relations or maybe a dinner party that night—which we were meant to pursue immediately. “Immediately” being the favored mode of operation—how else could he get that story, or that writer?
For the third week of our National Poetry Month celebration, we will be focused on the work of John Ashbery. Ashbery was born in 1927 in Rochester, New York. After studying at Harvard and Columbia, he spent several years in Paris in the 1950s on a Fulbright scholarship, and later as an art critic for the Paris Herald Tribune. His first collection, Some Trees (1956), was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Series. From 1966 to 1972 he was the executive editor of ArtNews. His collection Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975) received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award. From 1990 until 2008 Ashbery was the Charles P. Stevenson, Jr. Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College. His latest collection, published last year, is Quick Question.
Joseph Brodsky (1940–1996) was a Russian poet and essayist. Born in Leningrad, he moved to the United States in 1972 following his expulsion from the Soviet Union. His poetry collections include A Part of Speech (1980) and To Urania (1988); his essay collections include Less Than One (1986) and Watermark (1992). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987 and served as US Poet Laureate in 1991–1992.