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Bellow at the Miami Book Fair in 1990.(Wikipedia.org)

This week, the New Yorker treats us to a selection of colorful letters from Saul Bellow to his fellow writers, including Bernard Malamud, Alfred Kazin, and John Cheever. A sample of choice moments:

To William Faulkner, responding to a defense of Ezra Pound: “What staggers me is that you and Mr. Steinbeck, who have dealt for so many years in words, should fail to understand the import of Ezra Pound’s plain and brutal statements about the ‘kikes’ leading the ‘goys’ to slaughter. Is this—from the ‘Pisan Cantos’—the stuff of poetry? It is a call to murder.”

To Philip Roth, in apology for some perceived slight from a People magazine interview: “If I had been interviewed by an angel for the Seraphim and Cherubim Weekly I’d have said, as I actually did say to the crooked little slut, that you were one of our very best and most interesting writers.”

And to Cynthia Ozick, a high compliment: “[A]lthough we have never discussed the Jewish question (or any other), and we would be bound to disagree (as Jewish discussants invariably do), it is certain that we would, at any rate, find each other Jewish enough.”

We also highly recommend the accompanying podcast, featuring Nextbook alum Blake Eskin interviewing Bellow’s wife Janis, who is responsible for having saved the letters—her husband, she says, would just as soon have “used them to make paper airplanes with.” Janis offers some insight into the mindset that led Saul to correspond extensively with those who found fault with his work: “He was never under the misapprehension that anything he wrote was finished.”

Among Writers (subscription only)
The Great Dictator [New Yorker]





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