The Paris Review is better known for its poetic frenzy than for its punctuality. This year it is celebrating its silver anniversary -- three years late. "The 25th year slid by without anyone raising any hoopla; no one can remember why," explains editor George Ames Plimpton, who decided simply to "designate another year."Skip to next paragraph
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"Our approach to deadlines has always been rather Moroccan. Time doesn't seem to mean Very much," said Plimpton recently after breakfast in Los Angeles.
Plimpton, a hired gun for Sports Illustrated, makes a business of stepping into lions' cages and NFL huddles, and living to write about it with characteristic wit and aplomb. He was here to regale an "early bird breakfast" of insurance lawyers with tales of his antics in the world of sports literature. After blueberry blintzes and hash browns, he adjourned to his hotel room, loosened his paisley necktie, kicked off his loafers, and began explaining the joys and tribulations of his "hobby": The Paris Review.
He had arrived late the previous evening with a clean shirt and canvass briefcase stuffed with manuscripts. "I edited an interview with Paul Bowles on the flight out, and going back I think it's Erskine Caldwell. It always puzzles contributors when their manuscripts get sent back from the circus, or the Boston Celtics training camp," says Plimpton, a tall man with handsome boyish looks, a deep country-club tan, and an indefatigable charm, which has become his trademark.
The editor's casual elegance befits the magazine that can boast having recruited its first publisher, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, at the running of the bulls in Pamplona, and for a while had its editorial headquarters in Peter Duchin's barge moored on the Seine.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its panache and eccentricities, the Review has survived as a robust literary institution, an island in a sea of sinking literary magazines. Backed by its 4,000 paid and freeloading subscribers, the Review has developed over the years into a cross between a salon and a pioneering literary showcase. It was the first to publish Samuel Beckett in the United States and one of the first to print the works of Philip Roth, Jack Kerouac, Terry Southern, and V.S. Naipaul. Many of its fledging editors have gone on to considerable literary heights: William Styron ("Sophie's Choice"), Peter Matthiessen ("Far Tortuga"), and Robert Silvers, a managing editor who went on to found the New York Review of Books. Over the years its "Apotheckers, have included Frances Fitzgerald ("Fire in the Lake") and Lena Horne's daughter Gail Lumet. Jane Fonda left her mark in issue No. 18 with her line-drawing of a coffee urn. Jacqueline Onassis spent much of her Vassar junior year abroad hanging out with the Paris Review staff.
The Review's heady tradition is mirrowed in a 25th anniversary issue whose credits read like a Who's Who of modern and contemporary writers with fiction by Jerry Bumpus, Raymond Carver, and William Gass, and poetry by John Ashbery, James Dickey, Louis Simpson, Anne Sexton, and Philip Levine. It also includes a controversial and previously unpublished essay by Ernest Hemingway on "The Art of the Short Story," a previously unpublished ghost story of William Faulkner's, artwork by David Hockney, and an interview with Rebecca West, the 93-year-old grande damem of British letters.
In 1953 expatriates Peter Matthiessen and Harold Humes founded the Paris Review and invited Plimpton, Matthiessen's long-time friend and a former editor of the Harvard Lampoon, to edit the magazine. Its first office was a boxlike room rented from Plon, a conservative and austere publishing house, on the large courtyard at 8 Rue Garanciere, opposite the walls of the Garde Republicaine. At 6 each evening, the concierge locked the courtyard door and Review editors, often working late, had to hang from a second story windowsill by their fingertips and drop into the street below.
"It was a jarring descent, especially for the shorter members of the staff," recalls the 6 ft., 4 in. Plimpton in the Paris Review Sketchbook, a loopy and lilting history of the magazine in the 25th anniversary issue. "On occasion, this exodus--which must have looked like the flight of second-story men surprised in mid-job--coincidd with the return of the mounted Garde Republicaine from an official function.