New Directions

In 1936, James Laughlin started New Directions, at age twenty-two, on the advice of Ezra Pound “to do something useful.” Over his summer vacation from college, he set out West with New Directions books in the trunk of his Buick and wrote to Dylan Thomas about his efforts to get them into bookstores: Selling is really a great art, and I am just a novice at it, but it gets into your blood. To size up the buyer at a glance, in the half instant that you have free as you come into the shop, to make instantly your judgment of the line you will take, and then to attack… and not to give way at the first defeat but keep at it, trying every last little dodge that you’ve picked up from past experience. Anything to leave the books behind you, or rather, come away with an order. It is like some kind of insect depositing pollen where it isn’t wanted. You believe in the seed you carry. You feel sure if you can just leave the books in view in the store someone will come in and buy them… My God how you love the buyer after she has bought something… you are friends. You sit there for a moment after the sale, in a sort of lull after a tempest, and talk a little shop in a soft, pleasant way, with all the ferocity out of you and a feeling in you of actual bliss, as though you have just conceived a child. The New York Times has called New Directions “one of the most influential book companies in the United States. It wasn’t easy: “Bizniss stinks worse than ever.” Laughlin wrote in the early days: “I am learning to care deeply for the gin.” Dylan Thomas fleeced him for £1,000 by inventing a critically ill brother; Basil Bunting called him a “capitalist viper”; he had to change Gertrude Stein’s tires and buy Celine’s wife ballet slippers; William Carlos Williams defected for a time to Random House; Wyndham Lewis wrote, “Why don’t you stop New Directions, your books are crap.” But Laughlin kept on. “Situated at the big wells of twentieth-century Modernism, Laughlin was a wildcatting publisher to be sure, [a] monarch of taste, one-man customs official, and connoisseur of the last century’s literary avant-garde. The house’s list is stocked with so many experimental turned influential writers: Borges, Bowles, Merton, Henry Miller, Nabokov, Paz, Sebald, Tennessee Williams, William Carlos Williams, and, of course, Ezra Pound, to name just a fraction of the stars.” -POETRY New Directions tries to keep on in James Laughlin’s footsteps, finding writers like Roberto Bolaño, Javier Marías, César Aira, Inger Christensen, and Dunya Mikhail, to name just a few. Along the way the support of the writers, the bookstores, the reviewers, the librarians, and most especially the readers is and always has been essential. We hope you’ll take a good look at these new books. As James Laughlin once wrote: “It is a risk to be my friend. I operate on the principle that if someone does me a kindness that entitles me to ask immediately for another favor. That’s not as immoral as it sounds –– if you’re a Buddhist.”

< Elaine Kraf Michael McClure >