Delmore Schwartz first wrote to James Laughlin in the summer of 1937. Schwartz was twenty-four years old; Laughlin was twenty-three. Laughlin had started New Directions Press during the previous year, while still an undergraduate at Harvard. In the course of the two and a half decades during which they corresponded, Laughlin became one of the most respected publishers of the century. Schwartz, who began his career as the golden boy of literary New York, died in relative obscurity.
Schwartz’s fame as a poet, critic and short-story writer was sparked by the publication of the story ‘In Dreams Begin Responsibilities’” in Partisan Review. In 1938, New Directions made it the title piece of his first book, a collection of poetry, a verse play and short fiction. Schwartz was immediately hailed as the most promising poet of the generation that included Lowell, Bishop, Jarrell and Berryman. At the time of Schwartz’s death in 1966, Robert Lowell wrote of him that ’’his destiny seemed the most hopeful of any young poet in 1940, then the downward road, some germ in the mind, the most dismal story of our generation perhaps.’’ Unfortunately, Schwartz is remembered more often today for the difficulties of his later years than for the poems and stories that brought him early renown.
The letters that follow reveal much more than the poet’s ascendancy and decline. They record a relationship between poet and publisher that in its scope and commitment has all but vanished from contemporary publishing. The selection is taken from the over one thousand pages of their correspondence. W. W. Norton will issue Delmore Schwartz and James Laughlin: Selected Letters in a single volume edited, annotated, and introduced by Robert Phillips. The Selected Letters is the third book in the series of Laughlin V voluminous correspondence with New Directions authors.