Edwin Frank: Queer Aspects of The New York Review of Books
Author: Steven Cordova
September 6, 2012
LGBT bibliophiles will recognize New York Review Books (NYRB) Classics as the press that could—but doesn’t—boast about its impressive catalogue of LGBT-interest titles. Edwin Frank founded the press in 1999 as the publishing house of The New York Review of Books and serves as the imprint’s Editorial Director.
NYRB Classics is dedicated to publishing an “eclectic” mix of fiction and non-fiction from “different eras and times.”
Lambda Literary’s Steven Cordova is happy to report that Edwin has very kindly—and very modestly—agreed to take time out from his busy schedule to participate in an exclusive Lambda Literary interview.
The impressive and long list of LGBT-interest titles NYRB has published contains everything from novels to memoirs, from established classics to cult favorites. A few titles were originally published in the late 19th century but most date from the 20th. The list, moreover, falls into two categories: titles written by gay or lesbian authors, and titles that are of LGBT interest but not necessarily written by LGBT authors.
Yes, we try to cast a wide net, mixing up all sorts of different kinds of fiction and non-fiction.
Beginning with the first category, the list includes The Gallery by John Horne Burns; Manservant and Maidservant and The House and Its Head by Ivy Compton-Burnett; Prisoner of Love by Jean Genet; The Go-Between and Eustace and Hilda: A Trilogy by L.P. Hartley; Mardrew Czgowchwz by James McCourt; Count d’Orgel’s Ball by Raymond Radiguet; Hadrian the Seventh by Fr. Rolfe; The Belchamber by Howard Sturgis; The Pilgrim Hawk and Apartment in Athens by Glenway Wescott; Riders of the Chariot by Patrick White; The Goshawk by T. H. White; four titles by J.R. Ackerley (We Think the World of You; My Dog Tulip; My Father and Myself; and Hindoo Holiday); three titles by Sylvia Townsend Warner (Summer Will Show; Lolly Willows: Or the Loving Huntsman; and Mr. Fortune) as well as several titles by Henry James (The New York Stories of Henry James; Ivory Tower; The Outcry; and The Other House). NYRB Classics with LGBT-related content are Monsieur Proust by Celeste Albaret; Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter; The World as I Found It by Bruce Duffy; and Pages from the Goncourt Journal by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt.
So, tell me, Edwin, how did the press build up this impressive list, and are there any titles I’ve left out?
There are over three hundred books in the series now, so I imagine there has got to be something else. Let’s see. Jan Morris’s memoir Conundrum, about her change of sex. Tove Jansson, the Finnish writer and illustrator most famous for her Moomintroll books for children, whose novels for adults we publish. Henri de Montherlant—he was gay, though I wouldn’t say that has much bearing on Chaos and Night, the book of his that’s in the series. In any case, the series began nearly thirteen years ago as an outgrowth of a project called the Reader’s Catalog. Working on that it became clear just how many good books had fallen out of print in the course of the corporate buy-up of the traditional publishing houses—Ackerley, for example, whose books were among the first to appear in the series. Soon enough we were also drawn into the complementary business of translation, given the notorious neglect of foreign literature by American and English publishers.
Often an NYRB book by a classic gay or lesbian author is introduced by a contemporary gay or lesbian author. I’m thinking here of The Pilgrim Hawk, which is introduced by Michael Cunningham, and The Belchamber, introduced by Edmund White. Can you tell me about the selection process for this? Does the sexuality of the Classic author relate to the sexuality of the contemporary author writing the introduction? Or do other factors like subject matter or expertise in a specific era or style come into play?
Well, any given book presents a number of points of interest, and one tries to find a writer who can speak to one or another of them in the introduction, the better to interest readers. Belchamber is a sadly little known book, but I knew Edmund White would know it and be able to bring out its humor and its pathos. I sent Michael The Pilgrim Hawk and he just fell in love with the book. You could tell his passion would be contagious.
Based on the many titles NYRB has published, I think it’s safe to say you’re well-read. What are some of your favorites among the LGBT titles you’ve published, and what about them makes them your favorites?
Ivy Compton-Burnett is one of the most ferocious and strange and wonderful of twentieth-century writers. And funny! Sylvia Townsend Warner’s books are also sui generis. Completely modern but not in the least modernist, with a way of telling the truth slant that is a revelation. Genet’s Prisoner of Love, about his embrace of the Palestinian cause, is a deep meditation on love and death and desire.
One of my favorites is Hard Rain Falling by the American novelist Don Carpenter. Can you tell me some background information about Carpenter and how you selected this title from among his many books? Also, is there gay content in any of Carpenter’s other titles?
I haven’t read his other work, I’m sorry to say.
Okay, I don’t read enough women’s literature. It’s not a matter of not wanting to. It’s only a matter of there not being enough hours in the day. So, if I’m going to make time—and I am—which NYRB title by a lesbian author do you think I should read?
Compton-Burnett and Warner, as mentioned. The latter’s Summer Will Show is a rousing tale of the 1848 Revolution set in Paris. Tove Jansson’s Summer Book or The True Deceiver.
Have any of the LGBT-interest titles NYRB has published been particularly big sellers, and has the press considered marketing targeted specifically to LGBT readers?
Jansson’s Summer Book is one of our best-selling books. My Dog Tulip has done very well over the years and was helped by the recent quirky animated movie that was made of the book. We market almost exclusively through advertising in the New York Review and listings in trade catalogs sent to librarians and teachers. Also, in a sense through the introductions, and at times introducers will read from and talk about the book they introduced. In any case, we’re happy to do whatever we can to bring a good book to readers who would enjoy it.
Thank you, Edwin. Can readers look forward to more LGBT-interest titles coming down the NYRB Classics pipeline, If so, can you whet our appetites with the particulars?
We have a memoir of the Warsaw Uprising by the wildly experimental Polish writer Miron Bialoszewski, who presented staged one man avant-gardist performances in his tiny Warsaw apartment. A gay writer. Eventually we’ll also publish a book of his poems in the new NYRB Poets series that we’ll be starting next spring. There’s more Tove Jansson to come, too. A little farther down the road well be doing the Taiwanese writer Qiu Miaojin’s Letters from Montparnasse. This highly autobiographical novel about a young woman’s mental breakdown in Paris was one of the first books with a gay protagonist to appear in Chinese and is considered a modern classic.