I scored the publishing coup of the decade..and then I blew it.
Ed here: This was published in New York magazine..
By Roger Lathbury Published Apr 4, 2010
The first letter I got from J.D. Salinger was very short. It was 1988, and I had written to him with a proposal: I wanted my tiny publishing house, Orchises Press, to publish his novella Hapworth 16, 1924. And Salinger himself had improbably replied, saying that he would consider it.
Hapworth is Salinger’s great mystical not-quite-lost work. It takes the form of a digressive 26,000-word letter sent home from summer camp by the breathtakingly precocious 7-year-old Seymour Glass. The novella took up more than 50 pages of The New Yorker in the issue of June 19, 1965; I was 18 then, and I still have my copy. It’s the last writing that Salinger released to the world, apart from court documents blocking assaults on his privacy, and it never appeared again.
I had the idea that Salinger might find my company attractive for its smallness. (Orchises is based in Alexandria, Virginia, and at the time had about 50 titles in print, mostly poetry and reprints of classics.) I had addressed my pitch to “J. D. Salinger, Cornish, NH,” figuring that the post office would know what to do. They did. Two weeks later, a short note arrived, signed “J D S,” and saying that he’d consider my proposal. I was ecstatic, even if I doubted that he’d proceed. And then, silence.
Eight years went by. In 1996, Harold Ober Associates, which represented Salinger, asked for a catalogue and some sample books. It had been so long, I didn’t make any connection, but I now see that I was being vetted. That May, I came home from vacation to find a letter from Phyllis Westberg, Harold Ober’s president. She began, “It might be wiser to sit down before reading the rest of this … ”
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