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.
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.
Reviewing LeRoi Jones’s Blues People in The New York Review in 1964, Ralph Ellison wrote:
Perhaps more than any other people, Americans have been locked in a deadly struggle with time, with history. We’ve fled the past and trained ourselves to suppress, if not forget, troublesome details of the national memory, and a great part of our optimism, like our progress, has been bought at the cost of ignoring the processes through which we’ve arrived at any given moment in our national existence.
Ellison’s own work, from his celebrated 1952 novel Invisible Man to his stories, essays, and the unfinished novel published posthumously as Juneteenth, sought to record those troublesome details and question our national memory. “Ellison incessantly pondered the ways that race pervaded America and he wrote about them with originality and eloquence,” Robert Stone wrote in these pages in 1999. “But above all he was an artist.”
To celebrate the hundredth anniversary—or perhaps the ninety-ninth; accounts vary—of Ralph Ellison’s birth, we present a selection of pieces by him and about his work from the Review‘s archives.
On February 5, The New York Review celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with an evening at Town Hall in New York City. Before a packed crowd of 1,400 people, editor Robert Silvers introduced John Banville, Mary Beard, Michael Chabon, Mark Danner, Joan Didion, Daniel Mendelsohn, and Darryl Pinckney, who read from their past work in the Review and spoke about their relationship with the magazine and its influence on their careers. We present here some highlights from the event, along with a selection of photos.