In his introduction to The Tender Hour of Twilight, James Salter describes Richard Seaver as "a man of character, charm, and a New England-bred integrity." He was a publisher who cared about fine writing, willing to promote an author even when it might get his press in trouble. He had been writing this lively, in-depth memoir for many years, but died before it was published--leaving his wife, Jeannette, to sort through thousands of manuscript pages to bring us this important memoir.
Seaver's story begins in 1950s France, a world with plenty to offer a bright, energetic young man who loved literature--and life. Using his Fulbright scholarship to work on his dissertation at the Sorbonne, he met and fell in love with Jeannette, wrote an important essay on the work of Samuel Beckett and co-founded a literary journal, Merlin, that published several writers then largely unknown to American readers, many of whom he was translating himself. And he still had time to hobnob with the likes of Orson Welles and Brendan Behan. The conversational and entertaining memoir is crammed full of details, but one can't help but be carried along by Seaver's enthusiasm as he writes with so much joy about one exciting literary encounter after another.
Seaver also first met Barney Rosset in France; later, when he arrived in New York City, he fit in perfectly at Rosset's Grove Press, where he was reunited with Beckett, helping to shepherd his greatest works into print. Things were never quiet at Grove: Naked Lunch, then City of Night, then Last Exit to Brooklyn, closely followed by The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Story of O (which Seaver translated himself, under a pseudonym). All these books faced hard publication battles, taking a financial toll on the company, but Grove didn't do P&L statements. Luckily, Eric Berne came along, promising that his guidebook to transactional psychology, Games People Play, would sell hundreds of thousands of copies. It did, and more after that, and became the book "that saved our skin," so successful its title entered the popular lexicon.
Eventually, after new financial problems and conflicts with Rosset, Seaver felt he had to leave. He describes their last meeting affectionately; they parted as friends, with a "hug as hearty as any I'd ever had." The memoir ends here, in 1971: afterward, Seaver went to Viking, from there to Holt, Rinehart, and Winston and then his own Arcade imprint. He died in 2009 at the age of 82, still publishing the dynamic new voices in literature he loved. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Shelf Talker: A fascinating inside look at modern publishing from one of its most esteemed and respected members--so conversational it's like drinking white wine with Seaver in a small French café.