"What David R. Slavitt Knows,"
by Okla Elliot
Nov 9, 2011
"David Slavitt Joins the 100 Club"
By Judith Rosen
Aug 29, 2011
Operating A Circus Without A License:
An Introduction to
David R. Slavitt
Over four decades of work, staggering in its breadth,
with sideshows aplenty.
He says he's a poet first, but in his fiction and essays, he's a master storyteller with incomparable range, from taut psychological fiction to dazzling genre-bending work. He is also renowned for his work on the classics: since the 1960's, he's been translating steadily, producing work from Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish and French.
At Yale, he studied with Robert Penn Warren and was Scholar of the House when he graduated in 1956. He went on to earn an MA in English from Columbia, then served as an associate editor at Newsweek until 1965, teaching himself Greek on his 35-minute commute. In his last two years at Newsweek, he had a reputation as an astute, sometime cranky, but always readable "flicker picker" and gained some notoriety for his film reviews there.
By 1963, he published two poetry collections, Suits for the Dead (1961, Scribners) and The Carnivore (1965, Univ. of North Carolina). Hoping to make some actual money, he followed up with two novels, Rochelle, Or Virtue Rewarded (1966, Delacorte) and Feel Free (1967, Delacorte), which enjoyed a strong critical reception along with solid sales, especially for debut work.
But that's when things really started to heat up.
In a publishing gambit unique for its time, a circle of investors under Bernie Geiss & Associates offered Slavitt a contract to write a "big money" book. Slavitt agreed as long as he could do so under a pen name, Henry Sutton. The arrangement had spectacular results.
In 1967, the novel The Exhibitionist sold more than 4,000,000 copies, and in 1968, The Voyeur hit the racks with a Times Square billboard, a first in New York book promotions.
His backers also hired the dust-jacket's model to dance on the sign's scaffold. They were subsequently cited for "operating a circus without a license."
Once word got out that Sutton was a nom-de-plume, Slavitt and his backers were pilloried for the deception -- a blow-up that's unimaginable now.
The Geiss partnership eventually imploded, but through the 70's, Slavitt published seven popular novels under pseudonyms, including three more as Henry Sutton, Paperback Thriller as Lynn Meyer (1975, Random House) and That Golden Woman as Henry Lazarus (1976, Fawcett).
While the circus played around him, Slavitt never stopped innovating, shifting gears and writing more unconventional fiction, starting with Anagrams (1970, Doubleday) and ABCD (1972, Doubleday). He also launched his translation career with two major works: The Eclogues of Virgil (1971, Doubleday), followed by The Eclogues and The Georgics of Virgil (1972, Doubleday; reprinted: 1990, Johns Hopkins University Press). And he wrote two plays, King Saul (1967, American Place Theater) and The Cardinal Sins (1969, The Playwright's Unit).
During those same years, he also produced three more poetry collections, Day Sailing (1969, University of North Carolina Press), Child's Play (1972, Louisiana State University Press) and Vital Signs: New and Selected Poems (1975, Doubleday).
By the mid-70's, he'd produced an impressive body of work. But Slavitt was really just getting started.
Over next few years, he published four more novels, followed by six in the 80's, including The Hussar (1987, Louisiana State University Press) and Salazar Blinks (1988, Atheneum), both timely political satires. In the 80's, he also published four collections of poetry, along with two more translations, The Tristia of Ovid (1986, Bellflower Press) and The Elegies of Delia of Albius Tibullus (1985, Bits Press).
Through the 70's and 80's, he also worked in academia, as a Visiting Lecturer at Tufts (1975) and the University of Maryland (1978), as a Visiting Associate Professor at Temple (1979 - 1981), a Lecturer in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia (1985-86), and as a Lecturer in creative writing at Rutgers/Camden Campus (1987) and later at Princeton (1996).
He's also taught, lectured, gave poetry readings, and led workshops at Yale, Harvard, Brown, Bennington, Hollins University, University of Texas, American University, The Folger Shakespeare Library, The Library of Congress, and on C-SPAN. His awards include an NEA fellowship in translation, an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a Rockefeller Foundation Artist's Residence and a Pennsylvania Council on Arts award.
In the 90s and '00's, he expanded his translation work, from Ovid and Aeschylus to the Latin Odes of Jean Dorat and The Poetry of Manuel Bandeira -- 37 works in all over those two decades, along with editing three major anthologies. Add to that eleven more collections of poems, seven more novels, five more dramatic works, and three collections of political and literary essays.
As of now, Slavitt has published 102 works of fiction, poetry, fiction, poetry and drama and poetry in translation -- another landmark in American publishing. In fact, he's produced so much, it's daunting for many reviewers, and after four decades, the whole of it can overshadow each individual work.
In 2011, The Duke's Man (Northwestern), a dazzling novel, brought new attention to his narrative skills. That book came on the heels of high praise for his verse translation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (2009, Harvard), a monumental work and a thorough joy to read.
Alice at 80 and Lives of the Saints, both re-issued in digital formats by Outpost19, are vastly different novels, with literary styles that almost compete with one another. Alice at 80 holds to the conventions of a fictional biography, even as it challenges sacred childhood texts, while Lives of the Saints addresses Americans' relationship with violence, in a fractured style two decades before David Shields made it fashionable.
Overture, Slavitt's latest novel, is a kaleidoscopic work about Proust and prostate cancer, slipping through memory and genres as a writer grapples with the proper response to mortality. The novel is published by Outpost19 in print and digital.
We're also delighted to release a new translations by Slavitt, Lacunae: The Missing Cantos & Stanzas of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso.
A few examples of recent praise:
"[Slavitt's] translation is witty, energetic, playful, outrageous, yet serious and sombre too. Crucially, it is effortless readable."
Times Literary Supplement
"Slavitt is a master satirist, whose elegant, irreverent prose is full of witty quotations that we want to read aloud to friends."
"David R. Slavitt writes the best sentence in America today."
Kelly Cherry (The Woman Who)
You'll find excerpts at the links below. These and other titles by David R. Slavitt are avaiilable at major booksellers.