From the New York Observer:
Drenka Willen was just one of many individuals—including one woman seven months pregnant and another on maternity leave—to be hastily laid off last month from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt amid budget cuts. She is, however, the only one among them whom the severely troubled company’s CEO, Tony Lucki, has since asked to please come back. [. . .]
Ms. Willen, now 79, edited an improbable number of Nobel Prize winners over the course of her career, and accumulated a startling list of foreign luminaries that included Günter Grass, Umberto Eco, José Saramago, Amos Oz and Wislawa Szymborska.
Mr. Grass was apparently moved to tell Mr. Lucki exactly what a big mistake he had made by asking Ms. Willen to leave. According to several sources, Mr. Grass drafted a letter asking for an explanation, and had something like eight of the authors in Ms. Willen’s stable—Mr. Eco, Mr. Saramago and Ms. Szymborska among them—sign it in solidarity.
Though it’s unclear what role Mr. Grass’s letter had in Mr. Lucki’s decision to offer Ms. Willen her job back—Mr. Lucki did not respond to requests for an interview, and HMH publicity director Lori Glazer would not comment beyond confirming that Ms. Willen had returned to work—it is said to have been delivered about a week after Becky Saletan, who had just announced her resignation as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s publisher, visited her at home in Soho on the day now known as “Black Wednesday” to inform her of her firing.
I have to say that this is pretty amazing. I’ve never heard of something like this happening, and although Lucki won’t speak about it, I’m willing to bet that Grass’s letter had a wee bit of an impact on his “rethinking” of the situation . . . (Or maybe thinking for the first time about the situation and the impending loss of some of the greatest writers of the past century.)
I also like the fact that Drenka will “spend the next several months working from her home to tie up loose ends in preparation for a proper retirement.” Yeah, HMH fired a legend who was about to retire. Glad someone developed a conscience there and are letting Drenka leave on her own terms, after seeing her books (especially the retranslation of Grass’s Tin Drum) through to completion.
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .