"Literchoor Is My Beat": A Life of James Laughlin, Publisher of New Directions
A biography—thoughtful and playful—of the man who founded New Directions and transformed American publishing
James Laughlin—a poet, publisher, world-class skier—was the man behind some of the most daring, revolutionary works in verse and prose of the twentieth century. As the founder of New Directions, he published Ezra Pound’s The Cantos and William Carlos Williams’s Paterson; he brought Herman Hesse and Jorge Luis Borges to an American audience. Throughout his life, this tall, charismatic intellectual, athlete, and entrepreneur preferred to stay hidden. But no longer—in “Literchoor is My Beat”: James Laughlin and New Directions, Ian S. MacNiven has given us a sensitive and revealing portrait of this visionary and the understory of the last century of American letters.
Laughlin—or J, as MacNiven calls him—emerges as an impressive and complex figure: energetic, idealistic, and hardworking, but also plagued by doubts—not about his ability to identify and nurture talent, but about his own worth as a writer. Haunted by his father’s struggles with bipolar disorder, J threw himself into a flurry of activity, pulling together the first New Directions anthology before he’d graduated from Harvard and purchasing and managing a ski resort in Utah.
MacNiven’s portrait is comprehensive and vital, spiced with Ezra Pound’s eccentric letters, J’s romantic foibles, and anecdotes from a seat-of-your-pants era of publishing now gone by. A story about the struggle to publish only the best, it is itself an example of literary biography at its finest.
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