John Berryman and Robert Giroux: A Publishing Friendship

November 25, 2020
John Berryman and Robert Giroux: A Publishing Friendship

This engaging study provides new perspectives on the lives andwork of two major figures in American poetry and publishing in thesecond half of the twentieth century: Robert Giroux (1914–2008),editor-in-chief of Harcourt, Brace and Company and later of Farrar,Straus and Giroux, and John Berryman (1914–1972), PulitzerPrize–winning poet and Shakespearean scholar who also received aNational Book Award and a Bollingen Prize for Poetry. From theirfirst meeting as undergraduates at Columbia College in New YorkCity in the early 1930s, Giroux and Berryman became lifelongfriends and publishing partners. Patrick Samway receivedunprecedented access to Giroux's letters and essays. Byincorporating either sections or whole letters of thecorrespondence between Berryman and Giroux into this book, Samwaymakes available for the first time a historical account of theirrelationship, including revealing portraits of their personallives.As Giroux edited over a dozen books by Berryman, his letters tothe poet were often filled with editorial details and pertinentobservations, emanating from his genuine affection for his friend,whose talent he never doubted, even as Berryman endured prolongedperiods of hospitalization due to his alcoholism. Giroux gaveBerryman the greatest gift he could: sustained encouragement tocontinue writing without trying to manipulate or discourage him inany way. But Giroux also had a deep-seated secret desire to surpassthe essays written about Shakespeare by Berryman, as well as thebook on Shakespeare written by their mutual professor Mark VanDoren. Giroux's volume, The Book Known as Q: A Consideration ofShakespeare's Sonnets, was finally published in 1982. Samway'sfascinating account of a gifted but troubled poet and his devotedyet conflicted editor will interest fans of Berryman and allreaders and students of American poetry.