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?

4 thoughts on “Quotation of the Week: Saul Bellow

  1. John Vanderslice says:

    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. Theresa Milstein says:

    I love supportive writers.

  3. Calvin says:

    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. Erika D. says:

    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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