In response to:
Finding Babel in the Drawer from the December 16, 2021 issue
To the Editors:
It has been brought to my attention that the essay on Isaac Babel written by my father, Irving Howe, and described as “recently unearthed” [“Finding Babel in the Drawer,” NYR, December 16, 2021] had been previously published in the April 29, 2002, issue of The New Republic under the title “The Right to Write Badly.” (A previous article about Babel by my father was published in The New Republic in 1955 with the same title.) Both my father’s widow, Ilana Howe, and I, the literary executor of his estate, were unaware of this earlier publication. Last fall, Ilana found in a drawer the original typed version of the essay—which my father probably intended as an introduction to a collection of Babel’s stories that never appeared—with edits in his handwriting. We were both unfamiliar with it and assumed that it had not been published.
Before approaching The New York Review, a home for my father’s essays and criticism since its first issue, I consulted with three individuals who are deeply familiar with his work: David Bromwich, Mark Levinson, and Brian Morton, all longtime Dissent editorial board members and friends of my father. (Bromwich, Sterling professor of English at Yale, helped us to shorten the original manuscript.) They all believed it was unpublished. Neither we nor the staff of The New York Review, in the course of our diligent editing process, discovered The New Republic’s version, which is not digitized or easily available online.
My father died in 1993. In 2002 my brother, Nicholas Howe, was the literary executor of his estate; he died in 2006. I can only assume that he handled the publication in The New Republic.
Despite the trials of being a literary executor, I know that somewhere, my late father is amused to know that he was able to come back from the dead, albeit briefly, not once but twice.