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Quotation of the Week: Saul Bellow

There is much to appreciate in the wonderful collection of Saul Bellow’s letters to other writers that the New Yorker has published this week. (You’ll need a subscription to access the correspondence online.)

The letters contain a great deal of deep, seriously-considered material. But I couldn’t help focusing on one relatively short missive to Philip Roth, dated December 26, 1957.

Roth had evidently sent Bellow an early story, “Expect the Vandals.” With a little online digging, I discovered that the story was published in Esquire about a year later, in December 1958. A quick recheck of Roth’s literary biography confirms that at the time, he had yet to publish a book (his first, Goodbye, Columbus, was released in 1959).

Which makes Bellow’s closing comments to a virtual stranger (“Dear Philip Roth”) all the more meaningful:

“Look, try Henry Volkening at 522 Fifth Ave. My agent. A very good one, too. Best of luck. And forgive my having the mss. so long. I should have read it at once. But I don’t live right.”

Anyone know if Roth followed the recommendation?

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4 Responses »

  1. Amazing and touching that Bellow felt he needed to apologize to a complete stranger for not getting to the manuscript right away. I guess many of us are not "living right" in that case. Thanks, Erica. That excerpt makes a nice tribute to both men.

  2. I love supportive writers.

  3. I'm going to research the Henry Volkening bit. Phillip Roth went to my high school-Weequahic- 8 years before me-there's an active Weequahic newsletter and community-I've just published my first novel, 'Vichy Water' so what we've got here is 'some' commonality. I'll try and follow-up. In the early days of my writing, I sent my manuscript to "someone in the know" and got back after a long spell a note saying "Best of luck" too.

  4. Yes, this was incredibly supportive (and the apology impressed me, too). Calvin, you must let us know what you find out about the agent!

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