To the Reader:
“Naked Censorship, Part I” [September 29] uncovers a lot of fascinating material, and although I wasn’t nuts about everything said about me, that’s what they call life. It is the best single piece I’ve read about this now 37-year-old matter.
There is of course more to be said about everything I remember, but here I’d like to make the record about only two or three things.
(1) I wasn’t happy about being put on the Chicago Review faculty board. (I wasn’t happy about any assignment which left me less time to write.)
(2) When I came to Chicago in l955, I made up my mind not to publish any piece of so-called creative writing (story, poem, novel excerpt) in a University publication. I’ve kept to that for 40 years. The only poem of mine published in the Review was accepted before I came here.
Editors, including Rosenthal, in the early days, when we were, I thought, friendly, asked me to suggest contributors and to ask them for contributions. I did this and also submitted interviews I’d done with Lillian Hellman, Norman Mailer and Ralph Ellison thinking that they’d embellish the Review. When they were rejected, it didn’t take more to show me what the editors wanted and didn’t want from me. (The rejected pieces were published by other magazines and, over the years, have been reprinted, several times. I don’t think they would have defiled the Review.)
(3) I still believe that Kimpton–a good friend of my friend and “boss,” Norman Maclean–was a decent man. I admire him for not only listening to this nobody assistant professor but almost immediately realizing that withdrawing a subsidy or censorship were stupid, in fact, intolerable things to do. I’m also grateful to him for giving me a quick course in the political, social and human, yes, human complexity of that piece of the real world called Chicago. That he may have also known how to “use” me–I prefer this to “co-opt”–I can now see from Brennan’s piece is a possibility.
I still believe that the compromise we worked out was a good one, despite the view of my old friend–and former student–Bob Coover and other inheritors of the myth of literary martyrdom manufactured by Rosenthal and profitably distributed by Ginsberg.
That I joined with them to read for the benefit of Big Table, and that they published the story I read in the magazine, points to some sort of common understanding.
I hope part two of Brennan’s piece will clarify that and other things.